ANOTHER unproductive day for the Vale of Lune down on Moss Farm, which means that after their fourth visit they are still chasing their first ever victory on Northwich soil.
In a bruising encounter, hard and fair with referee Damian Hamilton quickly on the scene to defuse any potential flash points, the Vale offered stout resistance to play-off contenders Northwich, who were keen to erase their heaviest defeat of the season, 31-5, at Powderhouse Lane at the end of October.
Eventually the outcome of the game was resolved in dramatic style in the closing minutes of the first half.
As the game moved into injury time the home side were leading 7-5 and following a period of sustained pressure, space was created for stand-off Grant Hallam to drop a goal.
From the restart the Vale moved the ball wide but everything ground to a halt when Phil Berry’s pass was intercepted on half-way by winger Dan King, who after a brief juggle kicked up his heel to gallop away for a try converted by Hallam.
This was a disastrous end to the half for the Vale because they had defended resolutely and shown ambition in attack, but to trail 17-5 was a real body blow.
Unfortunately, they fell further behind in the first minute of the second half when Hallam kicked a penalty goal; game, set and match to the Cheshire side.
Vale began the first half by mounting a number of promising attacks that not only probed the home side’s defence but silenced their supporters.
In the fourth minute the Vale scored a well worked try from a five metre line-out as the forwards, with legs pumping and backs bent, charged towards Northwich’s line with all the subtly of a Centurion tank.
With Northwich defenders trying to halt the tearaway leviathan, Sam Wallbank was smuggled over for an unconverted try.
But, as was to be expected, Northwich came into the game and went into the lead with a nifty piece of quick thinking from scrum half, Mike Gallimore.
Vale were penalised in their 22 and while they wandered around and turned their backs, Gallimore seized the ball and bolted over the line for his try which Hallam converted in the 17th minute.
Gareth Tudor powerfully surged through after James Hesketh had made a neat break that included a change of pace and a dummy.
A promising spell of Vale pressure ended when the ball was overthrown at a five metre line-out and Northwich were not only able to clear their lines but to move purposefully deep into Vale’s half and to rattle in 10 points important in a couple of minutes.
There was plenty to mull over during the half-time break and when Hallam clipped over his penalty the signs looked ominous for the Vale, in particular when there was another interception but this time the ball knocked on.
In the 47th minute Northwich had their influential wing forward and captain Sam Naylor sent to the sin-bin and in his absence the Vale upped the tempo.
Debutant winger Rob Ward was a finger tip away from touching down an accurate chip into the dead ball area from Jimmy Moore.
Adam Macluskie burst confidently into Northwich’s 22, the forwards piled in but somehow the defence held firm as the Northwich side put the shutters up to await their skipper’s return.
There was too much going on for any suggestion of stalemate, but because the defences were on top and players were tiring there were few prolonged spells in the respective red zones.
The referee was injured when taken out by Lin, who tackled friend and foe alike, and Charnley was sent to the sin-bin with a few minutes left but the Vale’s defence was more than up to the demands made upon them.
Vale of Lune: T Carter, J Hodder, A Macluskie, A Powers, R Ward, J Moore, D Wilson, J Hesketh, P Berry (P Watson 67), A Cowey, S Wallbank, D Perry (capt), A Garnett (G Tudor 22), (W Blythe 67), D Lin, B Charnley.