Unusual visitors to Gorton Street this week as New Brighton of the South Lancs/Cheshire league made the journey east in the National Intermediate Cup. Also an unusual look to the Eccles line up with no fewer than nine squad members unavailable with injury, work, “international commitments” and the new scourge of proper winter sports, skiing.
Another surprise was that for the first time in a number of weeks Eccles made a bright start to the game. Early pressure resulted in a penalty being awarded that Tom Dutton knocked through the posts. A few minutes later another penalty was won but this time kicked to the corner. From the resulting driving maul Sam Simpson crashed over the line. Dutton added the extras and Eccles had an early 10-0 lead.
But the home side wouldn’t have all their own way, and a short while after it was they that conceded a penalty which allowed New Brighton on to the score sheet. It wasn’t long until the visitors were in Eccles’ half again and some uncharacteristic soft tackling allowed them to score their first try of the game, with the conversion cancelling out the early lead.
Eccles had to refocus and get back on the front foot. They did this with some excellent line-out work from Simon Donovan and Lewis Cooke which starved the visitors of possession. This laid the platform for the backs to show their speed and footwork. First Freddie Oakey put his foot down on the outside to sneak in the corner, then Adam Wilkinson wrong-footed a number of defenders on his way to the line. Both conversions were missed which made the half-time score 20-10.
The start of the second half saw New Brighton in resurgent form. They forced a penalty which they kicked to reduce the deficit, and when they unpicked the Eccles defence for a second time the scores were back level for a third time. Behind the posts some strong words were exchanged, as were some players to try and correct the flow of the game. Strong defence from Joe Dale, having a rare run out in the back row, and good running from first team debutant Craig Fagan put Eccles back in good position. A penalty was won which Dutton slotted to put Eccles back in front. They promptly went straight back up the field again and, after forcing a wayward pass in the in-goal area from New Brighton, a 5m scrum was awarded. What happened next was far from textbook (though not the #8’s fault for once) but Daire Russell pounced on the loose ball and the try was given. Dutton kicked his fourth of the day and the score was 30-20.
The visitors came back again and mounted pressure on the Eccles line. But this time the defence stood strong and the only mistake made was Matt Nombela spending 10 minutes at the referee’s pleasure. The final whistle sounded to cheers from both the players and supporters as a win that seemed somewhat unlikely on paper had been hard earned.
The success sees Eccles move forward as the north-west representative to take on the north-east, probably Bridlington, on 16/03/13. More details will be published as they become available. Before then Eccles have two tough league games, home to Wigton and away to Aspatria, to focus on.