Bedford Athletic 18 Westcliff 17

Bedford Athletic recorded a surprise 18-17 victory at home to league front runners Westcliff as they extended their winning run to four games from the past five matches.

Westcliff had two previous defeats in ten matches prior to their visit to Putnoe Wood but they left the ground second best on the day with Bedford Athletic recording a three game winning streak for the first time in over ten seasons at this level.

Bedford Athletic knew they had to make a fast start and they were bolstered by the news that there was only one change to the side that had recorded a vital league victory at Shelford in their previous league match with an injured Josh Cassell giving way to Harry Sawford-Smith. Westcliff arrived also with three wins from their last four matches and challenging Wimbledon at the top of the table. Importantly the first try of the game did go to the home side with captain Rob Watkins putting Bedford Athletic 5-0 ahead in the 12th minute with the conversion unsuccessful. As would be expected from a side sitting in second place in the league the response was robust and the pressure on the home side was immediate and relentless. This did eventually pay off and a period of forward pressure eventually paid dividends for the visiting pack with hooker William Morrant going over for the try which was unconverted and tied the scores up at 5 points all after 20 minutes. The home side continued to show little respect to their opponent’s league position and the match was more than a contest as the first half wore on. Bedford Athletic may have had cause to feel that their progress would be hampered when they lost fly half James Mortimer to injury on the half hour mark but a careful re-jigging of the home back line saw Steve Smith move to the pivot position and facilitate the next try in the game for flying wing Stephen Woodhead whose effort was converted by Smith to establish a 12 points to 5 lead on 31 minutes. The effort and impact that the home side were exerting on the game was not to end there and it was Smith again who added a penalty on the stroke of half time to give Bedford Athletic a 15 points to 5 half time lead.

This was never going to be accepted by a side that had lost only two games all season and having underestimated their opponents in the first half, Westcliff came storming back into the game in the second period. The home side resisted this surge and it was not until the 60th minute that Westcliff pulled a try back with replacement Joseph Vandermolen burrowing over for the try which for a second time went unconverted by the normally reliable boot of the Westcliff flyhalf Jack Jones. Indeed, Jack Jones has been central to much of Westcliff’s success this season and an unusual off day very much played into the home side’s hands. In this they were also helped by a stand out display from back row forward James Yates and it was galling for the home side when they eventually caved in to the visitor’s pressure and allowed outside centre Seb Reynolds the opportunity to score, Jones finally getting on the scoresheet with the conversion. Leading by 17 points to 15 the visitors could never consider themselves comfortable and so it proved two minutes from time when they were adjudged to have impeded a Bedford Athletic lineout offering a penalty to Steve Smith 40 metres out that he duly converted. Several phases later this delivered a famous victory.

This was a robustly contested match up that eventually went the way of the home side. A fourth win of the season did not lift Bedford Athletic out of the bottom three but it does position them one point behind the side currently in the safety of 11th position prior to a trip to Guildford on Saturday with a 2pm kick off.