After two disappointing results to start the season not many people in the Prediction League gave Eccles a chance going to Bower Park, Aspatria. But after a good week of training the travellers arrived in optimistic spirits, and to surprisingly mild conditions (that is it was above freezing).
As the game started Aspatria looked good value for their favourites tag. They moved the ball well from wing to wing and created a pressure on the Eccles line. Sean Griffin was caught “slightly” offside which gave the home team chance to open the scoring, however the attempt drifted just wide.
Against the run of play it was Eccles that opened the scoring. As the ball moved wide Tom Dutton found himself in acres of space, and he put his foot down to score the try from 25 yards. Almost immediately Aspatria pulled back a penalty to make it 5-3. But then it was their turn to concede a penalty and Danny Holland lined up from 35 yards. As the ball was struck it looked like it was going over but the legs ran out on it just short of the posts. The ball bounced back off the crossbar and landed in the onrushing arms of Will Parkinson. The looks on the other players faces was something of bemusement and hilarity #unbelievablescenes. From closer in Holland landed the conversion giving Eccles a 12-3 lead.
Five minutes before the break saw a player from each side shown a red card for a skirmish off the ball. Aspatria claimed the penalty for retaliation and moved down field again. The Eccles defence stood strong but conceded another penalty, which gave the kicker the chance to make the half-time score 12-6.
Into the second half and further indiscipline from the visitors saw their lead dwindle then disappear entirely, with two penalties levelling the score at 12-12. Eccles were creating chances but were unable to finish them off. A seemingly late hit on Freddie Oakey left him looking quite Grifftastic and forced to leave the field. Richard Owen also limped off with a leg injury. Things weren’t looking good for the Salfordians.
Things got even worse shortly thereafter as a mix up between replacement full back and wing allowed the ball to bounce straight into the arms of the opposition centre who walked under the posts untouched. The conversion added to give Aspatria their first lead of the game, 19-12.
But with 10 minutes to go Eccles renewed their efforts and marched down the field. After a sustained period of pressure, where the ball was retained through multiple phases, Sam Vincent spotted a gap at the side of the ruck to dart in next to the posts. Danny Holland added the extras to bring the scores level again. Eccles now looked the most likely to win it and were piling forwards in numbers. Another period of sustained pressure was mounted and with just two minutes to go a miraculous/flukey offload (depending on who you ask) from Sean Griffin found Andrew Frost in support and he touched down under the posts. Another conversion from Holland made the scores 26-19.
With just seconds to go Eccles conspired to lose the game, when a kick to touch missed its target (I think a scrum would have been a better option). But the efforts the home team had put into getting back into the game showed as the ball was spilled. The final whistle brought loud cheers from the visitors and their supporters.
A massively improved performance all round with a much higher work rate in the forwards, and better use of possession in the backs. Eccles will be hoping to bring that same form back home when they welcome Workington to Gorton Street on Saturday.