North Ribblesdale 13 Pontefract 15
Given that they had already defeated Pontefract twice this season, North Ribblesdale could perhaps be forgiven for anticipating victory in this Yorkshire One encounter.
But on the day the first match of the new year saw the visitors displaying the resolution required to take the spoils.
As the score suggests there was little between the sides, however Ribb showed only brief flashes of continuity, squandering a couple of gilt- edged scoring chances, and they were unable to sustain enough periods of good play to create more opportunities.
The going at Grove Park was heavy, and the contest was always likely to prove a hard slog – not a day for finesse, but one for graft and stout defence, areas where Ponte- fract excelled.
Probably their best spell was in the first quarter of an hour where they enjoyed territorial advantage, without displaying any cutting edge to their attacks, but a clever chip turned the home defence and Scott Boyd followed up to touch down.
Stung into action the Dalesmen came back well with Simon Bolland and Matt Speres prominent, but a handling error spoilt a promising attack.
However territory was retained and Steven Moon slotted a penalty to put his side on the board.
Mick Carr was next to make inroads and Ribb began to play on the front foot, aided by a yellow card to visiting hooker Carl Smith.
One excellent passage of play saw Ribblesdale take play from their 22 deep into the opposition half, where a stretched defence fell offside, allowing Moon to kick a second penalty and snatch the lead. It didn’t last long though as Ribb carelessly conceded territory and possession, the result being a successful penalty by Andy Dean to give Pontefract an 8-6 half time advantage.
The second half began well for Ribb with the powerful Speres shrugging off several tackles to move play into the opposition half. The attack was sustained and Speres then appeared in the left-hand corner only to lose possession over the goal line.
Shortly after a chance went begging on the right, profligacy that could not be afforded. The game then entered an untidy phase, frequently punctuated by the whistle, and eventually a pair of yellow cards resulted (scrum half Hayden Vyles for Ribb and No8 Guy Picketts for Pontefract).
Arguably Ribblesdale still had the upper hand, but they were not creating enough to breach a sturdy defence and eventually the visitors broke out with a long kick that resulted in a couple of basic errors, allowing Fawcett to hack on and score by the posts.
Dean converted and Ribb were chasing the game at 15-6.
At this stage there was still 20 minutes to play and the home side brought on Ethan Henare, which gave them a bit more impetus up front, and following a period of pressure he burrowed over with Moon’s conversion bringing the scores tantalisingly close.
However Pontefract held on during frantic closing stages, one excellent tackle that halted Jonny Moore as he went close demonstrated their commitment, denying Ribblesdale anything other than a losing bonus point.
On reflection a setback for Ribblesdale, but they appear capable of accumulating enough points to secure a mid-table position in this competitive league.
But Pontefract needed the points to keep a buffer between themselves and relegation, but on the evidence of this display they should be safe enough.