Vale of Lune 3-24 Wirral

Head coach Paul Woodward dishes out instructions.
Head coach Paul Woodward dishes out instructions.

For the past three seasons in North One West the club that was at the head of the table at the end of February went onto to be crowned champions, so history suggests that Wirral could well be the bookies’ favourite for promotion.

The league leaders arrived at Powder House Lane with an unbeaten run of fourteen games but were held to 10-10 draw at Thornton Common Lane by the Vale of Lune on the first Saturday in November.

On the day Wirral confirmed their status with a polished, technically efficient performance as befits a side that is on top of their game and oozing confidence.

They have developed the winning habit and even though the Vale did have a slight territorial advantage during a much improved second half, Wirral were very much in control of proceedings.

Vale’s form has fluctuated from the end of November, injuries and heavy grounds have not helped their cause but once out of the equation for a promotion spot the Vale have become becalmed, the edge has gone from their game. They have been overtaken in the league by both Kirkby Lonsdale and Kendal and find themselves enmeshed near the centre of the league in no man’s land.

On paper, and in near perfect conditions, the Vale appeared in a position to possibly challenge the high flyers - skipper Darren Wilson was making his first start for three months with Matt Rogerson was also returning after injury.

Both these two played with commitment throughout, prop James Hesketh showed great determination as he hitch-kicked his way forward, lock Paul McLaren-Dorrington to his upmost to lift those around him, but overall the Vale never really gained the higher ground.

Of course all eyes were on Nick Royle. Would he break the first team try scoring record? At the final whistle the answer was an emphatic no, because the full back was allowed few chances, Wirral had done their homework and of course they were very much aware of the danger Royle posed.

After eight minutes of concentrated pressure the Vale succumbed to a well taken try from stand off Craig Harvey which he converted.

Vale were forced to work hard to deny Wirral further points during this period of absolute dominance and after 15 minutes the Vale made their first real foray into Wirral’s terrain but their slender foothold did not last for long.

Wirral easily swatted away the Vale’s efforts and were soon buzzing irritably in the Vale’s twenty two and in the 18th minute they extended their lead.

Royle had halted a dangerous run from winger Dan Harvey but the momentum was with Wirral and as Vale retreated scrum half Mike Warren was the first to react and pounce for an opportunist, unconverted try.

In the 28th minute the Vale did get on the scoresheet when Jack Turton kicked a penalty goal after a rare period of time spent around Wirral’s twenty two.

But Wirral were in control and in the fourth minute of the second half they scooped up another handful of points when full back Jason Annetts pelted through a Vale defence that was rooted to the spot for an unconverted try.

To their credit the Vale did start to claw their way back into the game.

Royle found some space, McLaren-Dorrington, Rogerson, Gareth Tudor and Ben Charnley thundered forward, winger Rob Ward made some promising runs, Turton angled his kicks to turn the defence and of course Wilson was cracking the whip, but Wirral always had players in the right position to defuse any situation.

In the 59th minute Wirral collected their try bonus point with the minimum of fuss. From a five-metre scrum the ball was swiftly moved to the blind side where winger Ali Baker took full advantage to score his try wide out on the left.

Craig Harvey put over a remarkable conversion when his none kicking foot slithered away but he somehow managed to direct the ball goal wards which clipped a post and went over.

Without being in any serious danger Wirral lifted their foot ever so slightly but the Vale were never able to generate the necessary energy to alter the outcome and in the end Wirral cruised to their 19th victory of the season leaving the Vale to reflect on how the fortunes of the respective clubs had followed different paths since they last faced each other at Clatterbridge on a wet Saturday at the beginning of November.

Vale of Lune: N Royle; A Macluskie, O Carter, J Higgin, R Ward; J Turton, D Wilson (Capt); J Hesketh, P Berry, A Cowey; A Foxcroft, P McLaren-Dorrington; B Charnley, G Tudor, M Rogerson. Replacements used: R Pillow, S Foy.