NORTHWICH gained a measure of their improvement, if little else, at Moss Farm on Saturday.
They were beaten at Sandbach earlier in the season 50-0 and, while they lost again they were unlucky to do so and the one-score margin of defeat showed how they have hit form since the turn of the year.
Northwich started at a blistering pace that stunned Sandbach, who were lucky when Chris James was adjudged not to have grounded the ball when he crossed the line.
Northwich were fired up by the return of ex-captain Rob Heath and his barnstorming carries inspired the rest of his pack.
They were camped in the Sandbach 22 and were only kept at bay by some ferocious defensive tackles.
Sandbach put in a long kick to touch, stole the line-out and a Northwich missed tackle allowed Tim Jones to score with their first venture into the Northwich half.
The home team could not believe it and matters got worse when five minutes later a loose ball was flyhacked by Sandbach centre Dan Massey. He ran forward and the ball bounced into his arms and he scored between the posts. Andy Rawlins converted and Northwich were 12-0 down and facing a mountain to climb.
Just before half time Jan Cartman was sinbinned for stamping but this, if anything, roused the home team and again Heath rallied his troops and bombarded the Sandbach line. Northwich winger Mike Lowe dived over in the corner but his foot had gone into touch.
They eventually broke through the Sandbach defence and Jonathan Simpson finished off a bruising forward rush. Chris Dale converted and at 12-7 down Northwich were back in with a chance.
Heath ran out of steam and was replaced by Dean Thompson. Five minutes later Nick Blake swapped places with Daniel Davy at prop. If the intention was to inject fresh vigour it didn't work and Northwich seemed to lose their way a little.
They were awarded a relatively easy penalty but Thompson hit the upright. Northwich applied further pressure and were camped on the Sandbach line when the full-time whistle blew.
Other results: Northwich 2nds registered their seventh successive win beating Ruskin Park 17-5 (Dave Harvey, Andy Chubb, Andy Stanley tries; Stanley con); 3rds beat Knutsford 10-5 (Brian McNulty, Adam Bown tries).
Northwich host Broughton Park on Saturday; the 2nds are at home to Bowdon; the 3rds home to Crewe & Nantwich.