UNLIKE the majority of the clubs in North One West the Vale of Lune and Sandbach were in the envious position of not having to look over their shoulders at the spectre of relegation or worry about promotion as they faced each other in the final league game of the season.
Sandbach were put under pressure immediately in which the eventual man of the match Alex Baines was making his presence felt.
Sandbach were pinned deep in their own territory as Vale tightened the screw.
The usually efficient Tom Carter swept a penalty to the left after the Vale scrum had rocked their opponents round in the scrum after 20 minutes but in the 28th minute the Vale took a deserved lead.
Carter chipped into the right hand corner, winger Damon Hall was off like an arrow, cleaving his way past defenders in a single minded sprint to claim his fourth try in four games, a fine tally for this young player who has burst dramatically on the scene in recent weeks.
The conversion from wide failed, as did the full-back’s second attempt following Hodder’s try in the 35th minute.
A fired up Vale pack swarmed after a kick into Sandbach’s 22.
The power came on in a sustained burst; Hodder went hunting and was awarded the try.
Trailing by 10 points Sandbach suddenly started to play on the front foot and ended the half with a number of encouraging surges downfield.
Whatever was said at half-time certainly worked because within 11 minutes of the restart Vale’s lead had been reduced to a single point following three penalties from Benny Elliot, his third one being from Vale’s 10 metre line.
Vale struggled to recapture their first half momentum and their only threat came from a lone break from Darren Wilson when he chased down a kick into the dead ball area and was beaten to the touch down.
However, it was the number nine’s solo effort in the 55th that provided valuable breathing space for the Vale.
Wilson threaded his way through from 35 metres out with a twisting run that took him between the posts for an inspirational try converted by Carter.
As was to be expected Sandbach came back strongly but the Vale rose to the challenge.
Their tigerish tackling was of the highest order as Sandbach searched for an opening, but it was not all backs to the wall for the Vale who launched a number of pressure relieving attacks and as the game moved into the closing 10 minutes they were playing with increasing confidence.
In the 75th minute the outcome was thrown wide open when Sandbach scored a try which was as thrilling as it was dramatic.
The Vale were near to the visitors’ goal line and with the forwards rolling ever closer to the whitewash a try or a penalty seemed on the horizon but somehow Sandbach smuggled the ball clear and set off running from in front of their own posts.
A flat Vale defence was exposed by the pace of Elliot and although a couple of defenders were able to turn and chase it was an ever widening gap.
Leech was up in support and with a certain score beckoning Elliot unselfishly slipped the ball to Leech who touched down for his try converted by Elliot.
Vale refused to hit the panic button, they remained calm and composed but their hearts must have been in their mouths when Elliot lined up a drop at goal only to fire wide at the end of what had been a riveting game of rugby that came as a complete surprise on a day of surprises, but did provide the perfect leaving present to skipper Dan Perry prior to his departure to Dubai.
Vale of Lune: T Carter (O Hughes 73), J Hodder, A Powers, J Higgin, D Hall, J Moore, D Wilson, J Hesketh, P Berry, O Cowey, D Perry (capt), L Acton, S Wallbank (A Garnett 48), D Lin, A Baines.
Man of the match: Alex Baines.
Match Sponsors: former players.
Match ball sponsors: Friends of the Vale.