Bedford Athletic edged a tight encounter against last season’s play-off runners up Kettering 21-20 at Putnoe Wood.
Ultimately the home side had to overcome a 14-6 penalty count against them to prevail over a team clearly used to winning and in a match in which the result was in doubt until the final moments.
A fast start paid dividends for the home side as strong carries from Stephen Woodhead and Josh Cassell gave Bedford Athletic field position and then Harry Sawford-Smith crashed through to open the scoring on 51 seconds. James Mortimer converted for a 7-0 lead. Further chances came the home side’s way in the opening minutes but poor decision making and losing the ball in contact prevented further progress. When Kettering were awarded a penalty for crossing they cleared their lines and then gained a further penalty for an avoidable offside which propelled them to a lineout 5 metres out from the Bedford Athletic line. With ex-Premiership prop Brett Sturgess in their pack this was meat and drink to the Kettering forwards and they drove over for a try to Steve Fraher on 14 minutes. The conversion was missed and thereafter the game became a heated contest in the middle of the park with neither team able to gain an advantage. The breakthrough when it came followed a strong break by Cassell in the middle of the field and a pin point accurate pass to winger Woodhead who sped away down the right flank to score in the corner. A majestic touchline conversion from Mortimer pushed the home lead out to 14-5. From the restart a clearance kick was charged down and Archie Toseland was on hand to chase his own block and narrow the gap to 14-10 on 28 minutes. A crass defensive error from Bedford Athletic as they tried to keep a clearance kick direct to touch from Kettering in play compounded by another error when they put their own defensive kick directly into touch meant that they were unable to exert any pressure on their opponents for the remainder of the half. The defence lived up to the challenge posed by Kettering and Bedford Athletic led 14-10 at half time.
Poor discipline cost Bedford Athletic immediately from the kick off as they were penalised for back chat to the referee and from the lineout Kettering worked an attack that saw back row Toseland run round the outside of the defence to work a try for scrum half Billy Burrell. The home response was immediate as Stephen Woodhead ghosted through a gap and scored under the posts which along with Mortimer’s conversion extended the lead to 21-15. Both sides continued to have chances. Harry Owen ran the ball out of defence for Kettering and a high tackle allowed further pressure on the Bedford Athletic line. Sterling defence cleared the danger and then Woodhead was almost through as he was brought down by the final defender and the arriving forwards overlooked a massive overlap in the backs that would have led to a certain try by carrying the ball straight up the middle of the park. Something had to give and in the end it was Bedford Athletics’ discipline. Charlie Darlow was yellow carded for entering a ruck from the side on 72 minutes, Kettering drove the penalty into the 22 and then repeated their effective catch and drive lineout routine from the first half for Alex Bayley to touch down for the try. Owens missed the conversion and Bedford Athletic still led by a point. They then cleverly closed the game out in the Kettering half dominating possession to stop the visitors using their man advantage and ending the game with a penalty of their own which Mortimer drilled hard, long and wide but it led to the final whistle and a narrow victory over a team that will undoubtedly be promotion contenders.
Bedford Athletic travel away this Saturday when they visit Leighton Buzzard looking to protect their unbeaten start to the season.