Bedford Athletic 25 Syston 24

Bedford Athletic maintained their position at the top of Midlands One East with a 25-24 win over closest rivals Syston.

In a game between two well matched teams, Bedford Athletic edged a one point contest despite being outscored on tries with their calmness under pressure in the final minutes paying dividends as they secured a vital victory.

A positive start saw the home side the first to overcome early nerves as they firstly pinched a Syston lineout to set up field position and then won a penalty at a Syston scrummage to leave them very much on the attack. The pressure within the Syston 22 told in the 12th minute as the ball was spread wide for James Wallace to crash over in the corner to score. The home side maintained the momentum well and they were adept at harrying Syston into further mistakes. From a turnover penalty a routine catch and drive lineout saw Bedford Athletic maul the ball strongly deep into the Syston 22 and when it was recycled a set play in front of the posts saw Josh Cassell scoot through the gap for his first try of the day, with James Mortimer’s conversion building a 12-0 lead on 21 minutes. Thereafter Syston began to work their way back into the game. Although they built pressure this possession was not penetrating until the home side gave away a penalty for offside on the half way line. The penalty was kicked to touch in the home 22 and Syston mounted a series of mauls and scrums close to the Bedford Athletic line. Bedford Athletic survived four scrums in total, even appearing to dominate one of these, before Syston picked the ball up from the base of the scrum and darted for the line. Although the initial thrust seemed to be held up, Syston cleverly recycled the ball and scrum half Alex Cavner was on hand to pick up the ball and dart over the line for an opening score converted by Alex White, cutting Bedford Athletics’ lead to 12-7 at half time.

Syston continued to dominate the opening exchanges of the second half and a cleverly placed kick caused Josh Cassell all sorts of trouble and he carried the kick over the dead ball line to give Syston a 5 metre scrum. They did not score immediately but several carries later they did power over the line, hooker Craig Lockington emerging with the plaudits to tie the scores at 12-12. The reply from Bedford Athletic was swift and devastating. Mortimer floated a sublime cut out pass across the field which set up a charge down the left wing by Josh Cassell and he crossed for his second and the side’s third try of the day, Mortimer converting for a 19-12 lead. Syston were by no means finished and once again forward power took them over the line for their third try, touched down once again by Lockington. White converted to tie the scores at 19-19. Bedford Athletic continued to find attacks of their own and capitalised on one of these in the 55th minute when Mortimer slotted over a penalty to restore the lead. Syston were on the attack from the restart when flanker Joseph Knowles-Lorriman was sinbinned for elbowing Athletic captain Watkins. This was to give Bedford Athletic some respite but it was not immediate as a midfield scrum saw Syston open up the play and send Ian Smith racing down the right wing to cross for a bonus point try and a 24-19 lead on 59 minutes. However Bedford Athletic were gradually wearing their opponents down. A quick tap penalty from Tom Orton nearly led to a try with only a fumble from the Athletic overlap killing the momentum. Bedford Athletic worked hard to win a penalty at the resultant scrum and Mortimer kicked this for a 25-24 lead on 65 minutes. Thereafter it was all about possession and the home side controlled this well until the final minute, Mortimer pinning Syston in their own half. There was a final breakout in the last minute but the play was eventually held up on the home 22 and Bedford Athletic had clung on for a key victory.

Bedford Athletic now take a three point lead over Syston in the league table and with only one game left just need a victory at home to Wellingborough on Saturday to clinch the league title. Kick off at Putnoe Wood is at 3.00pm.