In a local derby of few opportunities and too many penalties, Ashfield suffered a rare home defeat at the hands of gritty Chesterfield Panthers.
Chesterfield, who have acquitted themselves admirably in the Midlands 3 East (North) division of the National League since gaining promotion two seasons ago, showed that they have become a well-drilled and organised outfit.
On a mudbath at Larwood Park, where the wear and tear of a wet winter finally took its toll, the visitors played the conditions better and came from behind to grind out a 14-10 success and stay fourth in the table.
But Ashfield, who remain sixth, felt that they were unlucky not to get something from the match, and coach Gareth Jones was quick to praise his battling side. “The lads put in the effort and didn’t gain the rewards they deserved,” said Jones. “Fine margins determine the outcome of games, and in this one, all. could have led to points being scored and a different result.”
Ashfield also felt that key decisions went against them, although they were keen to stress that this shouldn’t detract from Chesterfield’s performance.
The turning point of the contest probably came midway through the second half when the home side, who were holding a slender 10-3 lead, were awarded a penalty 25 metres from the try-line. A quick tap penalty was taken but, in the heat of the moment, the ball was spilled and knocked on when, on reflection, a kick for goal would have been the sensible option and might well have closed the game out for Ashfield.
The match had opened with both sides missing and then scoring penalties. Billy North was on target for Ashfield, but only six points were scored in a first half lacking any real penetration.
In the second half, a moment of inspiration from Ashfield’s captain, Jake Manning, swung the advantage in the home side’s favour as he broke from 35 metres, latching on to a chipped ball that cleared the Chesterfield defence. With three in pursuit, Manning outpaced them and scored, unopposed, under the posts, with Gareth Purnell adding the conversion.
Ashfield are renowned for their strength and stamina in the final stages of games, especially at home. But on this occasion, the visitors finished better, capitalising on some favourable decisions to score an unconverted try and two penalties for their victory.
This Saturday, Ashfield travel to East Retford for their NLD Plate semi-final, but without several players who have prior commitments on a Six Nations weekend that was originally a free date.