Fylde 25, Wharfedale 21
Refereeing can be a thankless task, and the man with the all-important whistle must regard the ‘helpful’ advice that rains down from the terraces as an occupational hazard – all part of the game.
Most of it is friendly, and soon forgotten amid the après-match socialising.
In this SSE National League One match, however, the referee’s questionable decisions could well have significantly affected the outcome, and his performance cannot pass without comment.
Craig Maxwell-Keys’ main apparent difficulty was in control of the breakdowns, a series of penalty awards leaving players and fans of both sides perplexed.
Both sides suffered, at different periods, but the Greens could justly claim particular hardship with at least three first-half decisions against them that negated genuine scoring opportunities.
This was not Fylde's fault, of course. On overall balance of play they had the edge, and deserved their revenge for their narrow defeat at The Avenue in September.
Early pressure was all from the home side, fly half Richard Kenyon’s fifth-minute penalty getting them off the mark, but the next score came from the visitors, Tom Barrett’s splendid weaving run to the line in the 21st minute, plus his own conversion, taking the Greens into a 7-3 lead.
The advantage was shortlived. Winger Oliver Viney touched down four minutes later for the first of a pair of finely worked tries, with opposite wing Oliver Brennand collecting a superb crosskick from Kenyon and swerving through the defence for a try in the 31st minute.
Lock Paul Arnold burst clear of a maul for Fylde’s third try in the 40th minute, though his chance owed all to a blatant knock-on missed by the officials.
Importantly, as it turned out, Kenyon’s conversion attempts at all three tries failed.
Flanker Robert Stewart’s push-over converted try in the 47th minute – earned while Greens lock Richard Rhodes was absent on a yellow card – looked to have settled the result but then came the standard Wharfedale fightback.
Pressure on the home line built relentlessly, but not until the closing minutes did the fast-tiring Fylde defence crack.
Flanker Dan Solomi burrowed over in the 72nd minute, and centre Joe Donkin grabbed the crucial – and well-deserved – bonus-securing score. Barrett’s smooth conversion was the final action.
Wharfedale: A Whaites; L Davies (J Gough 59), J Donkin, L Gray, S Horsfall; T Barrett, P Woodhead; J Altham (A Mason 71), S Graham (I Larkin 66), M Tampin, R Brown (J Mason 66), R Rhodes, T Wareing (A Myers), D Solomi, A Allen.