Winnington Park 6 Northwich 16
MANY may say that it was prophetic that the 'Blacks' consigned their neighbours to lower league rugby next season but with the ever improving Vale of Lune snapping at their heels Northwich are by no means safe and face a nail biting fight to avoid joining Park in South Lancs and Cheshire One.
This was a typical 'tight' derby encounter with both teams giving everything they had got but it was spoilt by the atrocious weather which prevented both sides from displaying their real qualities. The match, sponsored by Eric Johnson Electricians attracted a healthy gate but yet again failed to produce a 'classic'.
There was only one try in it, scored after 11 minutes when the 'Blacks' back row forward Jamie Miritana broke through the Winnington defence to set up a driving maul for second row Chris Heywood to claim the glory. Stacey Hosking converted to make it 7-0 and from then on Northwich never relinquished the lead.
The driving, bitter conditions meant that there was little to show in terms of flowing rugby and in a game littered with mistakes, niggling penalties and 3 yellow cards the remainder of the points scored came from the boot.
After 25 minutes, following a pulling down offence, Park fullback Nathan Archer kicked a penalty but this was cancelled out 5 minutes later when Hosking punished a 'handling in the ruck' error. Five minutes from half time the 'Blacks' Rick Smith was judged to be holding onto the ball and Archer put over his second penalty to give Park a chance at the break.
The weather and the standard of play deteriorated in the second half and in a battle fought at close quarters 3 yellow cards were shown in the space of 7 minutes. The first was shown to Park's second rower Carl Patterson for not rolling away, the second three minutes later for the same offence witnessed the 10 minute dismissal of the 'Blacks' centre Rick Smith and the third foray into the referees pocket followed a spear tackle by the diminutive 'Blacks' scrum half Gaz Davies.
With two men off the field and the 'Blacks' in some disarray Coach Paul Reid pulled off Adam Bown and sent on utility man Sam Naylor to firstly stem the flow at scrum half until the return of Davies and then to shore up the defence at full back for the remainder of the game. It was whilst the 'Blacks' were short staffed that the game was effectively won with a real touch of class from the impressive stand off Richard Dale who judged the wind perfectly to kill off Park with a 35 metre drop goal. This knocked the stuffing out of a proud Winnington and a second penalty from Hosking five minutes from the end put paid to any hopes of avoiding relegation.
The Patterson brothers, Mark and Carl were the backbone of the Winnington effort but the conditions and consequent style of play suited the 'Blacks' No 8 Graham Robinson down to the ground and Winnington's President Roy Palin has no hesitation in naming him as the man of the match.
Northwich have a cup break this weekend before entertaining Rochdale KO 3pm on 12th April but it looks as though the 'Blacks' league future will go right down to the wire when they visit Leigh on April 19th.