Vale of Lune 7-28 Birkenhead Park

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Title-chasing Birkenhead Park continued their quest for a swift return to National League Three North with victory in the penultimate game of the season at Powderhouse Lane on Saturday.

Second place and a play-off spot was assured for the Vale’s visitors but they are striving for the greater kudos of the North One West crown at the expense of top of the table Wirral who are a point clear entering the final round of matches.

Vale of Lune on the charge against Birkenhead Park.

Vale of Lune on the charge against Birkenhead Park.

Birkenhead completed the double over the valiant Vale, for whom Nick Royle was controversially shown a red card in the 61st minute as a full scale fracas erupted.

The hosts were 28-7 down at that stage and it appeared that the floodgates would open but it turned out not to be the case because the Vale regrouped and started to take the game to Park in a most admirable manner.

Before kick off the Vale knew they faced a tough physical examination and it began as soon as the referee’s whistle blew. Park, in a set of Vale’s alternative jerseys because of a colour clash, began pummelling the Vale’s defences.

In the seventh minute of relentless pressure Jack Ashcroft burst away for a try on the right which skipper Dave Hall converted from wide out.

Vale of Lune challenge Birkenhead Park in the line out. Picture: Andrew Perry

Vale of Lune challenge Birkenhead Park in the line out. Picture: Andrew Perry

With little ball to work with the Vale were unable to break out but their defenders worked overtime, Gareth Tudor, Ben Charnley, Harry Fellows, Paul McLaren-Dorrington, James Hesketh and Darren Wilson all put in thumping tackles close to the breakdown and when the ball was moved wide Jonty Higgin, Adam Macluskie all proved equal to the task.

The siege was briefly lifted when Olly Dobson showed his straight line speed when he broke out of defence, kicked ahead and caused Park to turn and chase. Turton intercepted a pass in an all too short period of time spent in Park’s uplands before the visitors added another score.

In the 22nd minute Tudor was shown a yellow card and two minutes later Park exploited the situation when they dragged the Vale every which way before a slick passing sequence created an overlap on the left which was meat and drink for winger Gavin Scott who touched down by the corner flag with Hall again converting from a difficult angle.

The Vale refused to give in however, Higgin leaving the action after one brave tackle too many to be replaced by Jamie Antcliffe.

Vale of Lune in the thick of the action against Birkenhead Park. Picture: Andrew Perry

Vale of Lune in the thick of the action against Birkenhead Park. Picture: Andrew Perry

Royle set off on one of his delicately balanced, hip swaying runs from 60 metres out, twisting and gliding past tacklers on his way to his 40th try of the season converted by Turton in the 27th minute.

Park turned the screw again in the closing minutes of the half but the Vale scrummage proved equal to the task.

Inspired by a break from the recently engaged Wilson, the Vale enjoyed the better of the early exchanges but with heavy rain falling a passing move just outside their 22 ended with the ball slithering to the ground.

Quick as a flash Park were onto the error, with Scott crossing for his second converted by Hall in the 53rd minute.

Five minutes later Park’s forwards rumbled their way towards Vale’s goal line and in the ensuing pile up prop Matthew Ibbotson was awarded the bonus try with Hall nailing the conversion.

Royle’s red caused a huge debate on the terraces but with determination etched all over their faces the Vale took the game to Park but the visitors not only displayed great control but they were well organised. True they had an extra player always available, but they remained fully focussed until the final whistle.

Vale of Lune: N Royle, O Dobson, J Higgin, R Ward, A Macluskie, J Turton, D Wilson (capt), J Hesketh, P Berry, R Pillow, P McLaren-Dorrington, A Foxcroft, G Tudor, B Charnley, H Fellows. Replacements: J Antcliffe, S Harrison. S Quick.