Injury-hit Vale of Lune’s six game unbeaten run came to an end against top of the league Kirkby Lonsdale at Underley Park on Saturday.
Vale produced a performance of heroic proportions to deny Kirkby not only a bonus point for the first time this season but also to restrict the home side to their lowest winning margin of the campaign.
In front of a large crowd the Vale played down the gentle incline with an early attack being launched by Fergus Owens, who slipped through a number of tackles.
However, there were signs that Kirkby were fully prepared to vary their angles of attack as scrum half Ben Walker directed operations with the back row of Dave Cooper-Dunn, Stuart Storey and Craig Galbraith in the thick of the action. Kirkby’s pack gave notice of their intentions in the sets but the Vale eight responded in kind but there were signs early doors of thing to come.
The home side’s supporters, who were becoming slightly restive at the lack of points, after all Kirkby had been averaging 46 per game, but a 17th minute penalty goal from Ryan Terry, calmed the beating hearts. A run from Tom Crookall put the Vale on the front foot as the game moved into the second quarter and although the Vale varied their attacking angles Kirkby’s defence rose to the challenge and restricted the visitors to one opportunity for points but Tom Slater was off target with a 27th minute penalty effort.
Four minutes later Terry kicked a second penalty following a passage of collective, honest rumbling from the forwards.
Adam Foxcroft broke away after a bout of pass the parcel with Ross Pillow and Kyel Dempsey was given a brief window of opportunity to show his pace on the wing, but like Cinderella the Vale had to concentrate on the more menial tasks.
But with the half drawing to a close Kirkby’s pack gave an indication of what was awaiting the Vale in the second roaring 40.
The Vale became trapped deep in their twenty two, grimly holding out as Kirkby thundered forward with locks, Leandro Kwiczor and Matt Hughes, making their presence felt at every opportunity.
Despite losing prop Dan Rainford, who was shown a yellow card, the Vale held firm.
There was to be no let up in the second half for the Vale as Kirkby tightened their strangle hold on the game, but the Vale executed their defensive game plan to near perfection to halt wave after wave of Kirkby attacks.
Occasionally the siege was lifted but not for long, and in the 51st minute Kirkby’s forwards achieved their goal when prop Tyran Fagan went over for a much coveted try.
Terry’s conversion hit an upright but from a Vale’s perspective bounced harmlessly away.
As the mist began to descend the framework remained the same; the Vale defended, halting the cavalry as Kirkby hammered on the door, but as players merged into the increasing gloomy night vision became the order of the day.
In the 70th minute Kirkby registered their second try.
From a quickly taken tap penalty the Vale were caught napping, the ball was moved accurately to the left where the pace of winger Martin Knapton enabled him to escape the clutches of some despairing tackles for a try.
Terry’s kick again clipped an upright to deny the extras.
Kirkby have gained a reputation for fashioning quick fire scoring sequences but the Vale were in no mood to dish out any late presents in the closing minutes.
For the hosts they are still ‘walking in the air’ to a possible champions crown, but even though the Vale suffered a defeat they will not be experiencing a ‘Blue Christmas’ after such a lion hearted performance against a side that has swept all before them.