Bolton 21 Northwich 18
IF chairman Sam Naylor had been bullish to predict Bolton would have to be ‘some team’ to beat Northwich, then he had cause to be.
Blacks had knocked over every opponent blocking their path since the turn of the year, a sequence of 12 successive wins, to secure a promotion play-off place for the second time in the past four seasons.
So much for the statistics.
As losses go, this was gut-wrenching – perhaps more so than when Sandal shattered the Moss Farm men’s dream of reaching the national league in 2010.
They led 18-14 in stoppage time when referee Robert Sheard called last play ahead of a lineout five metres from the visitors’ line.
Repelled initially, Bolton recycled the ball for Rick Newman to charge forward.
He reached far enough, just, to plant it the right side of the whitewash to turn the result around.
Mark Doherty’s conversion, his third of the afternoon, was the contest’s final kick.
Northwich players, resilient enough to recover from the blow of losing a lead they protected for less than five minutes early in the second half, could not hide their disbelief.
They had come closer than anybody to bettering Bolton on their own pitch for the first time in 18 months.
After falling agonisingly short, it left their hosts to celebrate back-to-back promotions.
“They were good weren’t they?” reflected Naylor afterwards.
“We can have no complaints, although it’s a bitter blow to lose like that. The challenge now will be to bounce back.”
There is enough character, not to mention talent, in this group to do exactly that.
Playing against a strong wind, Northwich toiled in the opening half hour to spend any time in the home team’s territory.
Bolton’s strength in the scrum was enough to push back Blacks repeatedly, though Doherty missed a chance to score first when a penalty attempt from a wide position fell short.
They broke through after 18 minutes, Newman crashing over from close range following a driving maul at the back of a lineout.
Doherty added the extras, a lead shortened by Chris Dutoy’s three-pointer before the break.
By then Northwich had lost Richard Dale (knee) and Jack Watts (back) to injury, the former when he was felled close to the posts by Doherty to cut short Blacks’ best move – started by skipper Gareth Davies’ break from halfway – of the opening 40 minutes.
Blacks edged ahead shortly after the interval, Ryan McKibbin bursting clear after latching onto a loose Bolton pass from the base of a scrum.
The hosts’ reply was instant, Ash Cooper barging over to leave Doherty a simple conversion kick.
It dazed the visitors, though the timing – literally and figuratively – of Chris Dale to read Mike Mills’ attempted pass before running in a second interception try was perfect.
Dutoy converted, adding a penalty a quarter of an hour later to establish a four-point lead.
What followed was borne of Bolton’s determination, not Northwich folly.
That will have been little comfort to the visitors watching the celebrations that followed.
Northwich Cartman (Cairns 26), James, Kingi, Heywood, Smith, Watts (Barber 39), McKibbin, Chris Dale, Davies (Gallimore 56), Underhill, Dutoy, Naylor, Richard Dale (Campbell 34), Chubb, Simes. Tries McKibbin, Chris Dale. Cons Dutoy. Pens Dutoy (2).