A try at the death sealed victory for Bedford Athletic by 18 points to 17 at home to Brentwood.
The try capped off an unlikely comeback win as the home side trailed 17-0 after half an hour and only started to threaten in the final 30 minutes.
Bedford Athletic dominated the set piece from the opening exchanges and it took tight head prop Ryan Taylor just three minutes to dispatch his opposite number as the home side won several penalties at the scrum. They were poor at turning this possession into points as the attack proved static and unthreatening and Brentwood defended it with ease. From their first attack they demonstrated the fluidity that Athletic were lacking as they spread the ball wide for left wing Charles Wilkinson to bump off full back Charlie Darlow for an opening unconverted try on 8 minutes. The Bedford Athletic attack continued to founder against strong visiting defence and despite a dominant scrum, opportunities proved few and far between. Two booming penalty clearances from Brentwood’s Bradley Burr led to an attacking 5 metre lineout and a well-executed driving maul brought a second try to Brentwood’s hooker Jack Richards on 25 minutes, Burr this time converting. To cap a poor first half hour Brentwood then ran the ball from their own 22 and with several tackles missed out wide it was Burr himself who finished off the move to give Brentwood a 17-0 lead. Scrambling defence from Stephen Woodhead stopped a fourth try on 34 minutes but he was adjudged to have done so illegally and suffered a yellow card. Against the run of play Bedford Athletic scored next on the stroke of half time as Rob Watkins and Darlow led a series of charges up the centre of the park and with Brentwood back pedalling it was Steve Smith who scored the try, Leo Mortimer converting.
Smith nearly scored again at the start of the second half as a rare home attack ended with him shoved (not tackled) into touch. Brentwood had now decided to kick long at every opportunity and had two further scoring chances when prop Tony Sherwood picked up and ran through a ruck only to be hauled down just short of the try line and a clever angle from Burr saw him create space on the outside only for the attack to end up bundled into touch. Further Brentwood pressure followed but the turning point arrived when a series of Brentwood drives were halted with a fine turnover penalty earned by Smith. Athletic could then clear their lines and immediately won a further scrum penalty in centre field to allow Mortimer to kick them back into touching distance on the hour mark. Smith was influential again minutes later as he latched onto a chip over the defence to set in motion a move ended only by a visiting offside and deliberate knock on. Captain Watkins playing the percentages signalled Mortimer to kick the penalty to cut the deficit to 17-13 on 65 minutes. Although Smith then left the field injured Bedford Athletic now had momentum. They continued to press as the minutes ticked down and seemed certain to score when a further deliberate knock on from right wing Spencer Owen earned him a yellow card with six minutes to play. This proved decisive as the home side constructed another wave of attacks ending with David Simpson diving over the line in the vacant wing position with two minutes to go. Although the conversion was missed the lead was by a point and Brentwood could not threaten again to deny Bedford Athletic victory.
Results elsewhere meant Bedford Athletic reach the halfway point of the season still in the relegation zone but by points difference only and with just five points covering five sides at the bottom of the league (with Shelford cut adrift) there is plenty to play for in the second half of the season starting at Tring on Saturday with a 2pm kick off.