Newly promoted Altrincham-Kersal was the site of the first league game of the season for Eccles. After resounding victories against Winnington Park and Fleetwood confidence should have been high in the camp, but following a mid-week injury crisis – ruling out Ross Seward, Mark Greenhalgh and Tom Dutton – was followed by two casualties on Saturday morning – Wayne Elloway and Tom Chapman – preparations were disrupted to say the least.
And so it looked early on. Eccles’ usually reliable line out made multiple mistakes, losing their own ball and making it far too easy for their opponents. There were 17 minutes on the clock when the set piece advantage finally paid off as the home side caught and drove over for a 0-5 lead.
The AK score seemed to both settle and rouse Eccles. After retaining possession through a number of phases, and some good runs from Tom Coe and Adam Wilkinson, George Oakey spotted a gap in the tiring defence to touch down beneath the posts, then converted his own try for a 7-5 lead.
Now on the front foot Eccles looked to take control, but too often the pass was forced when it would have been easier to go to ground, and possession was lost. That sloppiness was then echoed in defence as the Altrincham winger broke a number of tackles before being brought down close to the line. Two phases later they were able to crash over, and this time add the extras for 7-12 at the half hour mark.
Shortly after the leaders were reduced to 14 men for a dangerous tackle on Glen Cahill. It was one of many cards we’d see on the day. But Eccles couldn’t take advantage of their extra number and the half time whistle went with a five point gap.
Within the opening minutes of the second half the previous offender was returned to the field only to be replaced by his second row team-mate. Surely Eccles would have to score now. But despite some good runs from Chris Fortune and Matt Parkinson, bad decisions and more forced passes saw opportunities missed. Frustration started to creep into the Eccles game, typified by Greg Wilson being shown a yellow card after 57 minutes.
Five minutes later Joe Dale was sent for 10 minutes after getting involved in an incident where it appeared James Wright was headbutted. With Eccles’ backs against the wall the home team surged forward looking for a killer blow. As they moved the ball wide they looked certain to score until the ball bounced forward off Fortune’s hand, earning him a yellow too, and reducing Eccles to 12 men.
In such unlikely conditions the game seemed over, but somehow the visitors managed to not only hold out but march up the field. With AK scrambling to get back they received their third yellow, the sixth of the day, to bring the numbers a little closer. With just seconds left on the clock Eccles looked like they could grab a try, but the ball went to ground at the vital moment and once again the chance passed. The Cheshiremen cleared their lines and saw out the rest of the game. With no score in the second half it remained 12-7.
Not the start to the season the team would have hoped for. But they can take some solace from the rugby they played to create the chances; they ‘just’ need to tighten up the decision-making and last pass, and the line-out, to control the game more. The next chance they’ll get is at home to Wilmslow on Saturday 12th September.