Syston 19 Bedford Athletic 18

Bedford Athletic were unlucky to go down by a point at league leaders Syston losing by 19 points to 18.

In a game in which they contended well for long periods they led until the final five minutes and only succumbed to a late try, the defeat leaving them four points off the top of the table at the mid point of the season, albeit in third place.

The visitors were quicker out of the blocks than their hosts and dominated the early exchanges. With the majority of possession and territory and an early advantage in the scrum they were the first to score. James Mortimer, spotted space down the left wing and his chip over the defence allowed Josh Cassell to feed Nick Thomas for the opening try on ten minutes, Mortimer himself converting. Bedford Athletic maintained the early pressure and very nearly scored again, John Clarke carrying strongly to the line but he was adjudged to have knocked on in the act of scoring. Syston took the opportunity to relieve the pressure and it was they who went on the attack at the start of the second quarter. Attacking with width down the right wing, Josh Cassell had to step in to stop an overlap which led to a yellow card for a deliberate knock on, and immediately put Bedford Athletic under pressure in defence with 22 minutes played. They survived this pressure in part thanks to their scrum dominance with the home hooker Craig Lockington sent to the sin bin in the 26th minute for driving out of the scrum. Thereafter both teams proved themselves to be equally matched with both proficient at running through continuous error free phases and both adept at containing each other in defence with no ground given. It was Bedford Athletics’ turn to incur the wrath of the referee at the scrum when tight head Clarke was sin binned in the 39th minute but it was they who carried a 7-0 lead into half time.

Syston made the man advantage tell early in the second half as they forced a lineout in the visiting half and following a prolonged maul set up a series of pick and drives close to the visitor’s line. Eventually it was tight head prop Josh Kilby who forced his way over for the score but the conversion was missed and Bedford Athletic led 7-5 on 45 minutes. They extended this to 12-5 on 51 minutes as first Josh Cassell forced a five metre scrummage by tackling his opponent to the ground over the line and then he cut a great running line through the middle of the Syston defence that created an overlap on the right wing for Stephen Woodhead to superbly finish his 99th try for the 1st XV. Bedford Athletic could not hold onto the lead and on the hour mark, Syston forced field position that allowed them to repeat their pick and drive routine close to the visitor’s line with the same result when Kilby crashed over for the try, Laurie Harries converting to tie the scores. James Wallace leapt high to secure the kick off for the visitors and they again put pressure on the home defence which this time cracked to allow Mortimer a penalty chance for a 15-12 lead on 64 minutes. Bedford Athletic were beginning to control the tight exchanges and were increasingly playing the game in their hosts half. Another series of dynamic phases close to the Syston line drew another penalty which Mortimer converted for an 18-12 lead on 69 minutes. Bedford Athletic were now containing Syston in their own half and their desperation to escape paid dividends with five minutes remaining when a series of missed tackles down the left hand touchline saw the attack halted at the cost of a five metre scrummage to the home side. They were once again able to repeat their close range driving and mauling play to force a winning score once the ball was fed wide to inside centre Alex White. Harries converted and Syston saw out time for a narrow win.

Halfway through the season Bedford Athletic now sit in third place, four points behind leaders Syston and two behind Kettering. Although the advantage on paper in the title race now lies with both those clubs, Bedford Athletic know their season is still in their own hands starting this Saturday with a home game against Bugbrooke at Putnoe Wood with a 2.15pm kick off.