Birkenhead Park 43-22 Vale of Lune
Birkenhead Park were in second place in the table ahead of Vale’s visit on Saturday and maintained their unbeaten home record with an emphatic maximum points victory to keep table toppers Wilmslow within their sights.
The opening exchanges suggested two well matched sides were in contention and both showed strength in attack and deface.
In the 18th minute stand-off Alex Briggs kicked a penalty goal but Vale’s lead only lasted two minutes when a swift Birkenhead counter attack stretched the defence and ended in prop Peter Doolan going over.
His try was converted by the immaculate boot of Dave Hall who prior to kick off had made 345 appearances for Birkenhead Park and had contributed 2300 points. Lock Harry Fellows was at the forefront of a Vale surge that took play 80 metres downfield but gradually Park applied the thumb screws and from a quickly taken tap penalty skipper Olly Mabbott shot serenely through a huge gap for an unconverted try.
In added time Vale concerted forward pressure ended with prop Ross Pillow being driven over, his try being converted by Briggs via an upright.
Four minutes into the second half Sihalo Benge produced a piece of individual magic to launch a counter attack, Jordan Fern flicked the ball inside to that arch points pilferer, number eight James Robinson to score, his try being converted by Briggs.
Vale held onto their lead for eight minutes before Liam Sharples, who was playing in his final game before returning home to New Zealand, crossed for his try which Hall converted.
Trailing by a couple of points and with the final quarter approaching the electronic scoreboard confirmed the closeness of the contest but few could foresee the change in the Vale’s fortunes as they went from serious competitors to also rans in a short space of time.
On the hour flanker Shaun Mooney banked the try bonus point which Hall converted.
Park sensed the Vale were creaking and following a series of energy draining scrums and a succession of penalties Hall, to a chorus of pleading from the steps of the Pavilion, clipped over an insurance policy penalty in the 69th minute.
As the evening started to close in Vale’s hopes began to fade as the roof started to cave in.
Jake von Cleet sent the first tiles crashing to earth with a 72nd minute try, converted of course by Hall.
Four minutes later, with the floodlights powered up, stand-off Will Titherington raced clear after an interception for his try, and again Hall added the extras.
All that remained was for Benge to produce an exuberant score to end what had been a contest where the Vale had battled hard for an hour but everything went haywire in a critical twenty minutes as they slumped to their heaviest defeat of the season.