The start of a new season and as is the way these days the first game is a cup tie away to Fleetwood. Last season Fleetwood had gained promotion from the same league as Eccles by virtue of coming top, however the Eccles lads had well and truly blotted the Fleetwood copy book by winning both home and away fixtures. So Fleetwood were clearly not that happy with the draw.
With the new season Eccles had a very new looking line-up. None of the old guard were present, with many of the geriatrics finding imaginative reasons not to play. We also had a late cry-off from our East European prop due to a slight miss understanding with the local fuzz the night before. The actual line up on the day, from the top was Mark Greenhalugh who is clearly making an effort to command his true position, Joe Dale debuting at hooker, and Sam Simpson returning from maternity leave (new puppy in the house). The second row was made up of the Lillie boys disproving at a stroke the myth that there was only one pair of boots in the family, and that being an old pair of their dad’s. James Radcliffe finally returning from university at open side, Andy Frost cementing his place at blind side and Andy Maddocks holding it all together at No8.
In the backs we had Sam Higgins and Will Hamer at half backs, to my knowledge this being only their second time together as a unit. Lee Robson making his debut for the club at 12, James Wright making his first team centre debut at 13, Fred Oakey another club debut on the wing, and Matt Parkinson at the tender age of 17 making his first team debut on the other wing. Finally we had Will Parkinson, insisting on having the chance to make his first start for the first team at full back. Truth is he was heard to say “I’ll thcream and thcream ’till I’m thick” if not given the 15 shirt. No prizes for spotting the connection.
A new looking team to say the least.
The game kicked off with Eccles having the advantage of a slight breeze but with Fleetwood mounting all the pressure. Eccles responded resolutely, and despite a few close shaves were able to venture into the home 22 on a number of occasions. Eccles hard work appeared to be rewarded with the referee signalling a try, however even the Eccles lads had to point out to the ref that the 5 metre line doesn’t count. A modicum of just rewards finally came Eccles way with two penalty kicks by Sam Higgins. This gave Eccles a deserved half time lead of 0-6.
As the second half kicked off it was clear the home side had had the hair dryer treatment. Their intent being obvious with the ball being moved in hand as much as possible which put significant pressure on the Eccles defensive line. For most of the time the Eccles line held firm and whenever the odd break was made by Fleetwood committed cover tackling by Eccles was always present, notably by the back row as you would expect and the two wingers with Fred Oakey throwing himself about with gay abandon and Matt Parkinson tackling everything put in front of him and a few more he could find on the way.
Despite all the hard work put in by the Eccles team the home side were able to gain some reward and brought the scores level with two penalties of their own. The second kick also saw one of the Eccles team being sent to the naughty step for 10 minutes due to a high tackle. At the same time Mike Lewin was brought on for Matt Parkinson.
With Fleetwood in the ascendency and Eccles down a man you would have expected the home side to establish a lead. But the Eccles lads refused to accept the inevitable and withheld the mounting pressure defiantly. Eventually parity in numbers was restored and another change with Martin Thompson replacing James Wright. Then a rare period of Eccles possession and pressure saw another penalty being kicked by Sam Higgins to re-establish an Eccles lead, 6 – 9. Then another substitution saw Lewis Cooke coming on for Steve Lillie.
A 3 point lead, the strengthening wind in their faces, 15 minutes to go and backs to the wall. Tackles were made, bodies put on the line, every inch was fought for and Fleetwood just kept coming. In response the Eccles team just kept sending them back. With the game ever so slowly ticking to a close and Eccles camped in their own 22 for what seemed an unbelievable length of time without conceding any points Fleetwood moved the ball wide left and all expected the winger to score, but Will Parkinson had other ideas tackling the Fleetwood man a metre short of the line and Andy Maddocks making sure by forcing him into touch. All thought that was the game won, alas fate is a cruel mistress, and in the last play of the game Fleetwood were able to barge their way over for a converted try. 13 – 9 final score.
Simple analysis of the game, one negative (the try) but a whole bucket full of positives from everyone on the pitch. If Fleetwood are a level 6 side then Eccles deserve to be up with them. Well done to all and a big thanks to the lads on the bench who didn’t get a chance to come on, Gaz Hamer, Joe Hamer, and Shaun Griffin.