Coach Gareth Jones tried his hardest to put on a brave face after the on-field problems of Ashfield RUFC continued with a landslide defeat at the hands of high-riding Lincoln.
Battered Ashfield conceded no fewer than 11 tries as third-placed Lincoln inflicted a 73-10 defeat in the Midlands 3 East (North) division of the National League.
And Jones was forced to admit afterwards that his side “have been running on empty for a few weeks now”.
“The squad has been severely tested on so many occasions,” he said. “We knew this was going to be a difficult game after a run of disappointing results this year.
“We started brightly, but we were soon chasing the game after giving away three tries in the space of seven minutes within the first 16 minutes of the match.
“Lincoln played with a physicality and a pace that we couldn’t live with or deal with. However, at times, we made it easy for them with so many missed tackles.”
On what was the warmest day of the year so far, Ashfield took to the field with yet another enforced backline reshuffle and found Lincoln in red-hot form. The home side ran in seven tries in a first-half blitzkrieg that resulted in a tally of 47 unanswered points.
The rallying cry at half-time came from Jones, who urged his side to concentrate on the basics, contest at the set-piece, retain possession and play with a belief and freedom lacking in the first period.
In response, the second half began with Jones’s troops bagging early possession that put Lincoln under pressure, and although the home side scored the first try to take their points total past the half-century, Ashfield’s hard work was rewarded with a try by never-say-die captain Chris Houseman.
This was followed by two further Lincoln tries before Tom Hardwick, showing his exciting potential on his debut for the first team, took on two defenders and went over for a fine try close to the posts.
Lincoln, who sit third in the table, were in no mood to show any mercy, however, and they had the final say with a further try to complete the scoring.
One crumb of comfort for Ashfield was that, irrespective of the final score, they continued to play in the spirit of the game, and this was a credit to their discipline.
Nevertheless, the defeat, which was their 11th of the season, left them in the bottom four of the table, with only Boston, Sleaford and Nottingham Moderns beneath them.
With two matches of the league season remaining, they do hold a handy 14-point cushion over that trio, but they have now conceded 532 points -- the second worst record in the division -- and they face another tough fixture this coming Saturday (April 9, kick-off 3 pm) when title-chasing Loughborough visit Larwood Park.
Loughborough, who have won 18 of their 20 league fixtures so far, sit second in the table, just three points behind leaders Kesteven with a couple to play in what is sure to be a thrilling finale to the season.
The match will be another stern test for the young Ashfield side, who wrap up their campaign the following Saturday with a trip to bottom-of-the-table Moderns.
OTHER MIDLANDS 3 EAST (NORTH) DIVISION RESULTS LAST SATURDAY -- Chesterfield Panthers 66 Boston 3, Grimsby 20 Belper 20, Kesteven 24 Aylestone St James 5, Loughborough 52 Ashby 28, Nottingham Moderns 32 Sleaford 31.