ONE down, two to go.

Northwich could not have put in a better performance to prepare for the arrival of league leaders Vale of Lune at Moss Farm next weekend.

A defeat would have dented their promotion hopes at this stage rather than ended them, and instead they landed a blow on a direct rival Blacks, returning to action for the first time in three weeks, were slow to start.

Tom Eaton landed a penalty for the hosts, awarded after a Northwich player failed to release in the tackle, before Nick Baldwin replied in kind.

Martin Poste’s men broke through midway through the opening period when Baldwin, following a spell of sustained pressure, kicked cross-field for Will Du Randt to catch and score.

Baldwin added the extras.

A stalemate followed, although a back-row combination of Richard Dale, Sam Naylor and Martin Balshaw made sure Northwich looked more likely scorers.

And so it proved when Naylor picked up at a scrum before inviting full-back Joel Barber to break the line with a neat pass.

The ball was recycled, and Baldwin’s kick was caught without breaking stride by wing Bud Skinkis who duly dotted down.

Baldwin converted to make it 17-3.

However Stockport closed a gap on the scoreboard before the break when wide-man Richard Sackville-West crossed the whitewash after Simon Green had fed Tom Duffy from the back of a scrum.

Northwich produced some of their best rugby of the campaign after the interval, and extended their lead when Baldwin slotted another three-pointer.

An assault on their opponents’ line followed, and James Reilly added his name to a list of try-scorers.

Baldwin’s right boot remained reliable.

A bonus-point was secure with five minutes left when, after a lineout, Baldwin darted through a gap to claim a try that he converted.

Stockport, beaten now on successive Saturdays following a 31-15 defeat at Warrington seven days earlier, had the final say when Rory Austin supplied a final flourish to a flowing team move.

Eaton added the extras too.

Blacks stay fourth in North One West, a point adrift of a promotion play-offs place with a game in hand.

Northwich | Ridgway, Lindsay, King, Farley, Heywood, Richard Dale, Naylor, Balshaw, Poste, Baldwin, Skinkis, Reilly, Underhill, Du Randt, Barber Replacements Dean, Thompson, Montgomery Tries Du Randt, Skinkis, Reilly, Baldwin Cons Baldwin (4) Pens Baldwin (2)

Report by Steve Wood