A run of four games unbeaten for high-riding Mansfield was brought to an abrupt and decisive end by a determined and rejuvenated Birstall side.
Having won five of their opening seven matches of the new National League, Midlands 3 East (North) division season, the blue-and-whites travelled to Leicestertshire full of confidence.
But the hosts belied their position in the bottom four of the table with a fine performance to take the spoils 43-15, leaving head coach Wayne Robinson disappointed.
“Birstall were strong, but we didn’t play as we have been in recent weeks,” said Robinson. “We failed to do the simple things well.”
That was indeed an issue for the visitors because, throughout the game, there was evidence of them over-complicating things and, when under pressure, they were unable to execute play well enough.
In contrast, Birstall seemed invigorated by a change of coach and, seemingly, a change of attitude, which has transformed them into a formidable team. This result followed victory over top-of-the-table Long Eaton the previous week. Their scrum matched Mansfield’s, and they were also able to steal lineout ball from the visitors at crucial times.
The home side opened the scoring with a penalty after five minutes and then added a try seven minutes later. Although Mansfield were adept at the turnover and secured good possession, they could not stop two more tries before the break when the score read 22-0.
With ten minutes played in the second half, Mansfield struck back with a try of their own through flanker Phil Pogmore, who had an outstanding game. making himself a nuisance to the opposition at every opportunity. Pogmore struck again 12 minutes later, and the blue and whites had cut their deficit to 12 points.
It looked as though Mansfield were back in the game, but Birstall kept doing their drills well and despite another standout performance from another flanker, Emmanuel Ogunode, the visitors couldn’t stop three more second-half tries being scored against them. The best of the trio came from a crossfield kick, which was gathered by the winger, resulting in a try under the posts.
Impressive Birstall were good value for their win, despite one or ‘celebrations’ that are clearly in need of attention. The only consolation for Mansfield was that their never-say-die attitude enabled them to have the last word when they secured the ball in midfield and it was shifted out to Joe Ducker, who burst through two tackles to cross the line for the final try of the game.
This coming Saturday (kick-off 3 pm), Mansfield travel to Ashby for the rescheduled game that was postponed in October. Ashby sit second in the table, eight points behind leaders Long Eaton, after winning six of their eight league games so far.