A FEW minutes after halftime on Saturday, full-back Joel Barber charged towards the line to touch down Northwich’s second try.

He did so next to the sticks, making sure Nick Baldwin’s task to convert would be a simple one.

With extras duly added, Blacks led 18-7 against opponents tipped by many to win the North One West title this season.

Barber’s route to the whitewash was signposted by substitute John Dudley, who timed to perfection the delivery of a pass to his teammate.

However the veteran was watching, helplessly, from the side-line – sent there after being shown a yellow card by referee Mark Hiney – for an absorbing contest’s defining spell.

Kirkby Lonsdale were ruthless in making the most of an unexpected numerical advantage, scoring two tries while the former Rotherham star was off the field.

Ryan Terry converted one, edging the visitors ahead at 19-18.

Baldwin raised Northwich hopes by slotting a penalty with six minutes left, only for the Cumbrians to cross again in the corner to secure their seventh win of the season.

Their reaction at the final whistle was telling; no other side has forced them to dig that deep this term.

When the fixture list was published in the summer, they will not have expected to.

Indeed, on this weekend last season Northwich laboured to victory at Moss Farm against Douglas.

The same afternoon Kirkby inflicted the only defeat of the campaign on Kendal, who went on to be promoted as champions.

That the faces of Martin Poste’s men wore anguished expressions on hearing the final whistle, after 27 successive league wins, shows how far they have travelled in 12 months.

They made a start the director of rugby will have dreamed of, taking the lead inside five minutes when Chris James burst through a gaping hole in Kirkby’s defence.

“We’ve missed more tackles already than in all our other games,” said one of the visitors while they waited for Baldwin’s conversion attempt, which drifted off-target.

Their lethargy did not last.

They proceeded to spend most of the half in Northwich territory, turning their pressure into points after quarter of an hour with a try in the corner.

Terry converted.

The scoreboard was only updated once more before the break, when Baldwin kicked a penalty.

He repeated the trick at the start of the second half, although this time from further out, to make it 11-7.

Barber’s try followed during the hosts’ best spell of the match, and for the first time Kirkby appeared vulnerable.

However they sensed an opportunity when Dudley trudged off, and took it.

Northwich | Maddocks, James, Phillips, Smith, Farley, Heywood, Naylor, Chris Dale, Poste, Baldwin, Du Randt, Underhill, Reilly, Houghton, Barber Replacements English, Dudley, Richard Dale Tries James, Barber Pens Baldwin (3) Con Baldwin