IN A week when the nation was suffering from a hefty dose of Strictly Fever, an ideal antidote to glitter balls, spray on tans, plastic smiles and grumpy judges was to be found at Powderhouse Lane where the Vale of Lune hosted Carlisle in the final North One West fixture of 2011.
This encounter might have lacked the razzmatazz of the Tower Ballroom but there were some classy, contrasting movements, in a fast moving game.
As always Vale like to employ a foxtrot straight from the kick-off before easily segueing into a quickstep followed by a sultry tango full of Latin passion. But sometimes the opposition does its up most to limit the Vale’s terpsichorean skills to a few untidy, shuffling movements lacking in rhythm and precision, like an uncoordinated version of the St Bernard’s Waltz or an out of control Gay Gordons.
Fortunately Carlisle are not party poopers because they also like to move the ball around.
They proved to be quite capable of turning on the style and kicking up their heels when required, and they had the some well choreographed forward sequences that waltzed the Vale around with a style and panache that Johann Strauss would have recognised.
So it came as no surprise that the players produced a thoroughly absorbing game that from the start until the final whistle held the attention and where the outcome was finely balanced.
Certainly Carlisle were a different combination from that which was given the run around by the Vale in September.
The Cumbrians are a force to be reckoned with and providing this squad remain together there is a suspicion that they are going to startle some of their opponents in the second half of the season.
Credit must go to the Vale for their second half fight back because they trailed Carlisle at one stage 17-10 and looked distinctly out of tune.
But gradually they rediscovered their timing and balance, the moves began to flow, a suppleness and calm returned, perhaps the mid-week yoga class had not fallen on deaf ears.
Overall this was collectively the most spirited performance since the home victory against Northwich at the end of October.
Everyone played their part, battling hard until referee Dawson’s final blast on the whistle to secure a Christmas bonus of maximum points and to stretch their unbeaten run to three games.
The opening exchanges set the pattern with both sides willing to move the ball and not resorting to aerial ping pong on a sunny but chilly afternoon.
James Hodder embarked on a twisting, slashing crossfield run from left to right to link with centre Adam Macluskie, who raced over for an unconverted try in the 12th minute.
Two minutes later Macluskie accurately directed a pass to James Curran, the winger sprinting away for his 50th senior try which has been put on the back burner for a number of weeks, the conversion was missed.
Vale continued to strut their stuff, whisking the ball around from all corners, with one attack that had started in their own 22 sending Curran on a loping run that almost caught the visitors exposed at the back.
But Carlisle then started to cavort in Vale territory and when Alex Baines was forced to take a 10 minute breather in the bin, they struck.
Pressure was applied and when the Vale struggled to hold a five metre scrum, number eight Gareth Wylie claimed an unconverted try in the 32nd minute.
Suddenly Carlisle began hot footing around in Vale’s red zone.
Scrum half Tim Hughes tripped the light fantastic before Carlisle shot into the lead in the second minute of injury time. The highly rated and promising young lock Callum Rowlandson charged for the line with Vale players draped all over him.
Such decorations failed to halt the lock on his way to his try which stand-off Glen Weightman converted.
The second half began with both sides mounting attacks.
Tom Carter almost escaped following a neat pick up and powerful run but the Carlisle forwards again claimed squatting rights deep in Vale’s half.
In the 55th minute Carlisle added to their total with a superbly taken unconverted try which had their supporters cheering when Matthew Minett gyrated at speed through the Vale’s defence.
Vale were now in danger of sitting the remainder of the game out as wallflowers, but they came back with a move that nodded in the direction of the intricacies involved in mastering the steps to be found when performing the Dashing White Sergeant.
From a line-out the ball was moved across the field towards the East Terrace.
Space was created for Carter, who touched down wide out on the right for an unconverted try to bring Vale to within two points of Carlisle in the 57th minute.
With the light beginning to fade the Vale’s work rate increased and with three minutes of proper time remaining they went into the lead.
Jimmy Moore made a break, Hodder came rushing inside and in the confusion Carlisle conceded a penalty which Moore kicked.
With Moore playing a more influential role, the Vale continued to probe a Carlisle side that found it difficult to clear their lines.
A solo run from Moore took play up to Carlisle’s line, with the visitors’ clearance kick presenting the Vale with a line-out.
Lee Acton stormed away, the forwards joined the cavalcade but it was centre Andy Powers, still a forward at heart, who collected an unconverted try.
Even though the clock was ticking down Carlisle came back strongly as they began to squeeze the Vale.
The home side could not afford to relax or let their guard drop in the emerging sub plot.
Vale’s experienced players earned their corn, Darren Wilson, Jimmy Moore and man of the match Danny Lin all came to the fore.
Carlisle searched for a try; penalties were of little use at this stage as they opted for a series of line-outs and scrums.
The penalty count began to soar against the Vale but no cards were produced and eventually time ran out for the visitors.
The North One West season fires up again on January 7 and with it another batch of expectations for the Vale of Lune, and in the words of dance band leader Victor Silvester, a master of the concept of strict tempo, they will need to ensure a rhythm that is a balance of “slow, slow, quick-quick-slow,” in their remaining 11 fixtures.
Vale of Lune: T Carter, J Hodder, A Powers, A Macluskie, J Curran (T Ball 25), J Moore, D Wilson (capt), J Hesketh, P Berry, D Woodward (A Cowey 44), L Acton, S Wallbank (A Baines 22), B Charnley, D Lin, G Tudor.