All good things must come to an end as the Vale of Lune discovered at Round Ash Park when a competitive Leigh side snatched away Vale’s unbeaten record in North One West.
There was some small crumb of comfort for the Vale, Sale FC also had their unbeaten record taken away following their home defeat by Altrincham Kersal, 14-9.
Collectively the Vale were never at the races against a side that was out to impress new coach Vila Matautia.
For long periods the Vale were on the defensive, not necessarily deep in their 22, but they used a tremendous amount of energy plugging the gaps as the home side probed continually for openings.
It was all very draining for the Vale and left little time to produce the flowing rugby that had been a hallmark of their season so far.
Space was at a premium, the keys to unlock Leigh’s defence appeared to have been left in the changing rooms, but despite being reduced to 14 players in the second half the Vale did apply pressure but a combination of hurried dropped passes, wrong options and untidy ball from the sets only added to their woes and frustrations.
Leigh swarmed all over the Vale in the opening minutes, obviously relishing the challenge of taking the league leaders head on and in no mood to bend the knee.
Any thoughts that the Vale had harboured, perhaps subconsciously, about a romp in the Park were dispelled, as were those who found comfort by repeating the mantra that the Vale were notoriously slow starters.
Vale had their work cut out from the start, Jordan Dorrington pulled off an important tackle as Leigh enthusiastically piled on the pressure.
In the seventh minute all Leigh’s endeavours were rewarded when full back Elliot Ryan kicked a penalty goal.
Straight from the restart a visibly alert Vale swarmed all over Leigh’s 22.
The forwards united in a drive that forced Leigh backwards and after a textbook surge Sam Wallbank appeared with the ball to confirm the try which was converted by Moore.
A long-range penalty from Moore fell short and a scrum was taken against the head as the Vale began to take control.
But Leigh refused to panic, their work rate in all areas increased in particular in the forwards who started to carry the ball in aggressive threating groups, it was not very pretty but very effective as the Vale were forced on the back foot.
The Leigh forwards were quietly softening up the Vale but their try came from a piece of brilliance from stand off Jimmy Wilkinson when he sliced through a huge gap in the Vale’s defence.
As the Vale retreated, winger Adam Dyson blasted his way over in the left-hand corner in the 32nd minute, in a move that left Hodder prone on the ground.
Seven minutes later play resumed but the conversion failed, with referee Cross ruling that the ball had missed the target.
Further problems were heaped on the reshuffled Vale when following a rampaging five metre Leigh line out, Lee Acton was shown a red card and in the ninth minute of added time a pumped up Leigh pack hit the sweet spot when hooker Iain Wood collected a popular unconverted try.
Ah well, thought the Vale faithful, a half-time team talk full of fire and brimstone would do the trick but alas the furnace had gone cold and in the 45th minute replacement Dave Harrison kicked a penalty goal to make the Vale’s task even harder.
Invention turned to desperation the longer the game went on as the Vale struggled to string together any penetrating attacks; it was as though Leigh had a copy of the visitors’ game plan tucked inside their jerseys.
True, the Vale did not lack the ability to put Leigh on the back foot but they were unable to deliver; cool heads and fast hands should have prevailed but everything became rushed and frantic as the clock ticked down.
With eight minutes remaining Moore kicked a penalty goal to capture a losing bonus point, but Leigh’s grafting forwards almost blasted through from an intense drive inside Vale’s 22.
As the game moved into injury time the Vale opted for a scrum on the edge of Leigh’s 22 in one last throw of the dice in the hope of finding the lucky seven points for victory.
Leigh refused to surrender what they worked so hard for, the attack petered out and gave their new coach a result and performance that he would have been proud of.
The Vale now have an opportunity to lick their wounds ahead of a home fixture against bottom of the table Manchester, but regardless of the visitor’s league position they will looking cause an upset and collect a valuable scalp because after all prior to their game against the Vale, Leigh were third from bottom in the table.
Vale of Lune: J Hodder (A Garnett 32); J Dorrington, S Moorby, A Powers, J Curran; J Moore, D Wilson Capt); J Hesketh, O Cowey, A Cowey (J O’Donnell 52); L Acton, H Fellows (R Randall 32); S Wallbank, D Lin, G Tudor.