Valiant Vale give pacy Park a fright


In a rousing cup final at Lightfoot Green, Sedgley Park, champions of National League Two, overcame a gallant Vale of Lune side.

It was a day for heroes and although the Vale battled heroically up to the final whistle the strength, experience and pace of their opponents ensured the silverware would reside in the clubhouse at Park Lane, Whitefield.

On the day, if everything is equal, a 'good big one' usually defeats a 'good little one' and such was the case in the 33rd modern Lancashire Cup Final.

Sedgley Park simply had too many big guns and with a spine of a number of players who had played in their table topping side the Vale were forced to draw on all their resources and only in the closing ten minutes did they fall off the pace.

Vale showed great character throughout, building attacks under pressure, tackling like demons in an effort to upset the form book favourites.

James Hoyle played himself to a standstill, Malcolm Fowler marked his 200th appearance with a typical robust performance.

Life was far from easy for the Vale forwards but they refused to buckle and although the platform was not always as stable as they would have liked, they managed to protect the ball in tight situations.

In the backs James Moore probed Park's defence at every opportunity, Ian Bird rattled the opposition, while Kevin Gardner maintained the standards he has set throughout the season.

Replacement Andy Miller stunned the crowd and the opposition with his searing pace on his way to collecting two second half tries.

His ability to outpace Park's defenders was duly noted on the touchline, forcing Sedgley to bring on their more experienced players to ensure a comfortable victory cushion was achieved.

A huge band of travelling Vale supporters cheered a tense looking side that was led out by Ian Bird and junior player Jordan Dorrington. All the tension evaporated in the first minute when Moore sweetly kicked a penalty goal.

In ideal playing conditions, on a perfect surface, the game began at a healthy lick, with Park showing signs of pace an invention in the three-quarters. A scrum offence gave Park the opportunity to level the scores with a successful Ryno Ueckermann penalty in the 13th minute.

A slick handling move by Park's back division ended with centre Jimmy Naylor scoring an unconverted try two minutes later.

Vale bounced back, Simon Baines, who was named Vale's Man of the Match in his final appearance, snaffled the ball at a line-out.

The ball was moved wide but Neil Bennett's chip ahead was charged down forcing Ian Brookes to race back to clear the danger.

Park edged further ahead in the 25th minute when full-back Chris Glynn, a beautifully balanced runner, sliced through and his shake of the hips confused the defenders on his way to an unconverted try.

With nine minutes remaining the Vale rattled the opposition with a well taken try to remind Park that they did not have a monopoly on attacking rugby.

Referee Hamlin let the advantage flow as the Vale swarmed towards Park's 22. Lee Penny thundered through but Brookes claimed the try as both players plunged over close to the corner flag.

From a difficult angle, Moore added the conversion to bring the Vale to within three points of Park's total.

An injury time penalty goal from Ueckermann helped to steady Park who appeared relieved to hear the half-time whistle.

Early in the second half Moore kicked a penalty goal, a situation that forced Sedgley to raise their game and to endeavour to put some daylight between themselves and their tenacious opponents, who despite being unable to dominate in key areas were capable of cutting loose from the most improbable situations.

Park's three-quarters inflicted further damage in the 46th minute when Jonny Lowdon found himself in space to race round for his try which Ueckermann converted.

Four minutes later lock forward Paul Arnold collected the ball 50 metres out to prance through a flat Vale defence, his try being converted by Ueckermann.

Sedgley appeared to be cruising to a comfortable victory and must have been in a bullish mood when they were awarded a scrum five metres from the Vale line and in front of the posts.

However they infringed, the Vale took a quick tap, Bird brushed aside any tacklers before releasing Miller, who sprinted 60 metres for an unconverted try.

Although Ueckermann dropped a neat goal after the hour mark, Park were unable to subdue a Vale side that were showing signs of increasing their momentum through a series of forward drives.

A controlled thrust down the left from a line-out ended with Miller accelerating away for a try which Moore converted in the 65th minute.

Glynn hacked the ball through to coolly collect his second try with ten minutes remaining. Ueckermann again slotted over a penalty as Park belted and braced themselves to make sure the Vale would have to conjure up something extra if they were going to spring a surprise in the final minutes.

This score underlined the respect Sedgley Park had for the Vale as did the introduction of their seasoned campaigners during the second half.

Two late Park tries gave a rather favourable scoreline for the Division Two side but few would dispute they were worthy winners of the 'John Burgess Lancashire Cup' for the second time.

Replacement Dave McCormack nipped through for an unconverted try with two minutes left on the digital score board. Another of Sedgley's replacements, Ross Bullough, completed the scoring deep into injury time with an unconverted try after the ball had been whipped with lightening speed along the threequarter line.

Vale were loudly cheered at the presentation ceremony in particular by their opponents who were the first to acknowledge the contribution made by the side from Powder House Lane, who had forced them to work hard for victory.

After a period of sombre reflections, the Vale lifted their spirits as they were reminded by their supporters they had given their all and could feel proud of their efforts.

Later in the evening, coach Mark Nelson voiced similar sentiments and paid a glowing tribute to a quartet of players who had played their final games.

James Moore, after two sensational seasons, will be furthering his career with Sale Sharks. John Bowskill, who has made the journey from the North East, will be playing his rugby closer to home.

John Bleasdale, who started off by playing in the Vale Colts, before moving to Preston Grasshoppers, has decided to hang up his boots.

Also watching from the sidelines will be Simon Baines, the scourge of the opposition, a fearsome player who will be missed.

Vale of Lune: I Brookes (rep A Miller 37), J Bryan (rep J Bleasdale 75), K Gardner, I Bird (capt), L Penny, N Bennetts, J Moore, W Lord (rep P Jackson 56), K Rickerby (rep P Watson 40), P Huck (rep B Latham 56n), J Bowskill, G Rawlings (rep S Cox blood 29), J Hoyle, S Baines (rep G Rawlings 56), M Fowler.