Sir Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” and after a puzzling December the Vale of Lune have left their supporters scratching their heads as they attempt to decipher a paradoxical month and to crunch some of the numbers.
With three games to play in December there was a potential fifteen points up for grabs and the opportunity to consolidate a top slot but the Vale could only manage seven points from a win at Carlisle, a draw at home against Widnes and a home defeat by Wilmslow.
Now the Vale are left facing a tricky resumption of North One West fixtures in January already trailing leaders Sale by six points, second placed Liverpool St Helens by four but only one point adrift of Carlisle.
At the end of a dismal performance against Wilmslow that contained little Christmas cheer, unwanted statistics popped out of the cracker that produced few smiles.
For the first time this season the Vale turned round at half time without putting any points on the board.
In addition they suffered a home league defeat for the first time since the first Saturday in October 2011, while for a well organised Wilmslow side it was their first victory at The Lane since November 1994.
For the Vale, in particular those supporters who had witnessed their heroics at Carlisle their performance was baffling in the extreme.
Gradually the Vale’s game collapsed around them, their play became one dimensional and utterly predictable, the line out developed into a lottery, some of the tackling was questionable as was the passing and ball retention caused the vapours plus any momentum that was generated disappeared up a blind alley of indecision.
True, the Vale did salvage a losing bonus point in injury time, some consolation, rather like receiving one present rather than none at all, but it would have been grand larceny if the Vale had denied Wilmslow a deserved victory.
Unfortunately, from a Vale’s point of view, no one was able to take the game by the scruff off the neck and while there were some valuable contributions from individuals like Sam Wallbank, Danny Lin, Lee Acton and Harry Fellows, but there were times when the cavalry were slow to respond, no wonder the man of the match champagne was put on ice.
Vale appeared to be carrying on where they had left off at Warwick Road early on. Nick Royle and Sam Moorby sliced through the Wilmslow defensive network; an overlap appeared on the left flank Phil Berry was held up short of the line but Wilmslow absorbed the pressure and moved out of the danger area.
In the tenth minute, slightly against the run of play, the visitors opened the scoring with a try from winger Lawrence James, who squirmed over in the corner after shaking off some indifferent tackling.
Stand off Bob MacCallum converted with a superb kick from wide on the right.
A riposte from the Vale was repulsed as the home side struggled to find any penetration.
In the nineteenth minute Wilmslow went further ahead with a MacCallum penalty goal following a dangerous Wilmslow counter attack.
A Wilmslow penalty was popped into the left corner and from the resultant line out the visitor’s forwards powered the Vale backwards for wing forward Rick Jones to claim an unconverted try in the twenty sixth minute as the Vale floundered.
Vale’s predicament was not eased with ten minutes remaining when an orthodox threequarter move which was conducted at speed asked the Vale some awkward questions, but with no answers forthcoming James dashed over for his brace which MacCallum again converted from a most difficult angle.
The atmosphere on the East Terrace was subdued and reflective it was, in particular when the scoreboard showed a big round zero next to the Vale of Lune.
However, things brightened up noticeably at the start of the second when after seven minutes the Vale removed the nought.
Royle swept round behind the posts after he had received a delightful back of the hand pass from lock Fellows, Jimmy Moore added the conversion from wide on the right.
If the Vale had thoughts of un-wrapping another try package, Wilmslow forced them to think again when MacCallum kicked a penalty three minute later.
With ideas drying up the Vale rearranged their back division by introducing Jordan Dorrington to play at scrum half with skipper Darren Wilson moving to stand off and Jimmy Moore slipping into the centre in the fifty fifth minute.
This reconfiguration added some extra zip to the Vale’s game and caused Wilmslow to come to terms with some fresh angles of attack.
Moore kicked a penalty in the sixty second minute as the Vale edged closer to Wilmslow’s total but a fifteen point deficit appeared to be a tall order for a side that struggled to impose themselves.
The penalty count began to mount against Wilmslow but they turned down any potential three pointers in favour of a glittering try, unfortunately for the Vale Wilmslow remained fully alert and covered all possible pathways to the goal line.
Eventually the Vale did navigate a way through when Royle chased down a grubber kick from Moore for a smartly taken try which Moore converted with ten minutes left on the clock.
With time running out Moore was just short with a forty five metre penalty attempt before James Hodder touched down after a Vale attack that brought back memories of sunny autumn afternoons on firm pitches.
Moore put over the conversion in the second minute of added time to bank the losing bonus point but Wilmslow ensured that the Vale were not going to find any more presents under the tree with some passages of keep ball.
Vale of Lune: J Hodder; N Royle, S Moorby (R Ward 76), A Powers, A Macluskie (J Dorrington 55); J Moore, D Wilson (Capt); O Cowey, P Berry (S Foy 25), A Cowey; L Acton, H Fellows; S Wallbank, D Lin, G Tudor.
Match Sponsor: Ellison AC
Match Ball Sponsor: All Style Garage Doors