Last Kick of the Game Sees Wirral Out of the Vase
By Andrew Broadbent
The re-arranged fixture of the Cheshire Vase saw a keenly fought battle between two close neighbours.
In contrast to the day the original fixture was due to take place the weather for this game was unseasonably warm, dry and with a slight breeze. Both sides were in good form coming into the game with Wirral not having lost in the last 6 North Premier League games and Birkenhead Park (BP) only having lost once in the last seven in the league below. For the home side injuries in the last away encounter at Ilkley meant the Forwards were much changed from the usual starting line-up; the Backs line-up was strong, but Matt Loon was a late pull out from the side published in the programme. As Dave Harvey said at the pre-match lunch ‘league position and form count for nothing when there is local pride at stake’ and this proved to be the case in a contest that either side could have won right to the death.
BP got the contest underway and the initial exchanges saw errors from both sides with Park attempting two clearance kicks that did little to relive the pressure as they went out on the full. Wirral failed to take advantage of the territorial gains made though with their own line-outs lost in attacking areas and knocking the ball on when building in attack. Jimmy Annetts had the first opportunity to put points on the scoreboard when BP were penalised in the 14 minute for not rolling away on their 10m line; the kick was missed. Although BP then kicked the 22 drop out straight out Wirral lost the line out and good mauling from the Park pack resulted in 25m gained and Wirral being penalised for pulling down the maul. From 15m out the penalty was kicked and BP took the lead 0-3 with 19 mins gone.
Another penalty on 20 mins when BP were not releasing saw a good kick from Jimmy Annetts result in a Wirral line-out on the BP 5m; with Park penalised for pulling down the maul Wirral opted for the scrum; unfortunately, as was the case during the whole game BP dominated the restart making life difficult for Tom Parry at No8 picking up a ball as the scrum travelled backwards. After an extended period of play near the BP try line with errors by both sides but Wirral unable to break through and BP unable to clear; 2 min into injury time after good work by the forwards and the ball being passed from left wing to right Ben Brookes scored in the corner; the conversion wasn’t converted; Wirral into the lead 5-3.
Birkenhead then won the ball on the restart and after another good scrum by them and excellent work in the tight fly half Will Titherington went over close to the sticks; the conversion was kicked and Park had the half-time lead 5-10.
Immediately after the break what promised to be a good attack in open play by Wirral broke down when Annetts dropped the ball; BP, having been effective immediately before half-time then gained ground keeping the ball in the forwards however it came to nothing when they were penalised for holding on. Wirral again looked to open up the play and with the added bonus of a couple of penalties worked their way to a line-out on the BP 5m; the resulting maul was held up but again Park struggled to move out of their own 22; the pressure then resulted in a yellow card for BP. At this stage Wirral had the territory and most of the possession; this resulted in a try out wide for Danny Harvey but again the (difficult) conversion was missed. (10-10 at 55 mins).
There followed a period of play where neither side had any clear-cut chances, and the error rate meant the refs whistle became the dominant feature. This lasted until the 71st minute when after some good passing from Wirral and with Danny Harvey exploiting a gap in the defence, a well time pass to replacement centre Sam Broadbent saw him run in and score in the corner from 10m out. Once again, the conversion from out wide was missed (15-10).
This galvanised the away team into action and once again using their forwards to good effect they worked their way down field, with scrum half, Sam Chidley, crossing the whitewash. With the conversion missed on 76 mins the scores were again level (15-15).
On 80 mins Wirral Full Back Chris Crowley was obstructed as he kicked through down the left wing. Unfortunately, with the penalty 25m out and 5m in from the touchline it was missed. With BP then pegged back at their 5m they decided to end the game but rather than tap and kick the ball out, it was kicked straight out resulting in a Wirral scrum. A pass off of the back of the scrum out wide was then intercepted by the BP winger but the cover from Wirral prevented him getting to the try line; subsequently BP attempted a drop goal to win the game this was charged down but an offside player than picked up the ball for Wirral. BP kicked the resultant penalty thereby winning the game as the ref’s full-time whistle blew (15-18).
Well done to BP who played to their strengths and capitalised on Wirral’s weaknesses on the day; good luck in the final against Northwich. Wirral will have to pick themselves up and hope to make not quite as many mistakes when the league resumes with the visit of 3rd placed Blaydon next week (3.00pm kick off).