Vale of Lune’s new regime tasted defeat for the first time at the hands of last year’s North One West runners-up Birkenhead Park.
Having won their opening two it was always predicted that this third game would provide a real test but despite the reverse the Vale’s overall performance was a vast improvement on last season when Birkenhead were undisputed winners in both meetings.
It was a display that saw the hosts stay in second with two valuable points, a losing bonus and try bonus, but in many ways they were instrumental in their own downfall because they gave away a host of kickable penalties.
Full back Dave Hall, last season’s top points accumulator in the league, punished the Vale heavily with five successful kicks from his six attempts, plus his conversion.
It was a fast and furious start and after eight minutes Hall was off target with a penalty but he made amends two minutes later with an accurate kick down wind.
The home side showed plenty of enterprise and dash but unfortunately the velocity of some of their passes caused the ball to be spilled. Vale were tenacious in the loose, sometimes too quick for referee Sharp, who as his surname implied, was swift to penalise.
A penalty was the opening gambit in Park’s first try in the 19th minute.
The ball was popped into touch for a line out 15 metres out and in a text book catch and drive hooker Rob Doolan was shunted over for an unconverted try.
Ten minutes later Hall kicked a penalty after the Vale were lured into an indiscretion around a ruck.
Charlie Lomas was short with a Vale penalty in the 32nd minute as the Vale began to consolidate themselves in Park territory.
An increasing number of passes were pouched as the attacks started to flow, James Curran and Ollie Dobson combined to stretch Park in series of enterprising, efficient passages of play.
In the fourth minute of extra time Vale’s boldness was rewarded with a try after the ball was transferred crossfield, full back Tom Ball touching down wide out for an unconverted try.
The second half started badly for the Vale who were slow to get out of the blocks.
Park’s centre Joe Spencer slit the Vale’s defence, Hall danced far too easily through tackles and prop Jay Davies forced the Vale to retreat.
After eight minutes Hall kicked a penalty from in front as the Vale struggled for a toe hold in what had been an untidy opening to the second period.
Pressure built on the Vale and in the 58th minute Hall added another three points onto his side’s score.
Two minutes later a dreadful misunderstanding in the Vale’s defence when a bouncing ball eluded two defenders led to Spencer picking a pocket or two on his way to a try converted by Hall.
Facing a 19-point deficit a ray of hope flickered when Ollie Dobson, who had been moved from number nine out onto the wing, flashed over for an unconverted try wide out.
Suddenly the Vale’s game shifted up a gear, Park started to look vulnerable and with eight minutes of proper time left on the clock Dobson again confidently finished off another exciting passage of rugby with a try converted by Lomas. A powerful Park forward charge ended with Ball being shown yellow and Hall kicking his fifth penalty in the 75th minute but the Vale produced one final salvo in the second minute of injury time when Curran dashed over for an unconverted try.
Unfortunately in the closing minutes the Vale were unable to open Park’s defence which went into lockdown to secure victory.
Vale of Lune: T Ball; A Macluskie, I Bird, B Dorrington, J Curran; C Lomas, O Dobson; J Hesketh P Berry, T Moreira, B Charnley, T Smith; D Baines, S Ackers, S Wallbank (Capt). Replacements used: P McLaren-Dorrington, N Bennetts, B Swarbrick.