Market Rasen and Louth RFC restored some pride on Saturday following their home demolition by high-flying Newbold-on-Avon earlier this season.
When Newbold visited Willingham Road in September they humiliated the Red and Greens with a 70-point drubbing and came into this game fresh from a Warwickshire Cup semi-final win over National League side Nuneaton.
In stark contrast, Rasen’s last outing had been a limp display against fellow strugglers Newark in the last game before Christmas.
But after some deep soul searching from the players, Rasen began the year with a gutsy performance which pushed their illustrious opponents to the limit.
Both sides started nervously and the early stages were punctuated with a series of spilled passes and scrummages.
Newbold settled quickest and from a shortened lineout, the hosts drove the ball on before the Rasen defence parted, allowing lock Ben Thompson a gallop to the line for the opening score after 14 minutes.
Rasen responded positively, making deep inroads into Newbold territory with strong running centre Rob Batterbury making two breaks.
With confidence growing, Rasen laid siege to the Newbold line, causing flanker Henry to transgress and receive a yellow card.
Rasen hammered home their numerical advantage, and with the penalty dispatched into touch, their catch and drive routine worked perfectly for lock Leigh Dearden to be driven over.
Full-back Meehal Grint put the visitors ahead with a superb conversion.
Newbold came back hard, testing Rasen’s defensive mettle, and the visitors dealt with everything thrown at them until Ethan Wookey’s late penalty gave Newbold a one-point half-time lead.
Clearly encouraged by their first half performance Rasen started the second period brightly, and Dave Starling, revelling in his return to the back row, forced Newbold to concede an early penalty.
But from the kick to touch close to Newbold’s line, Rasen couldn’t replicate their earlier score as the lineout was overthrown and the hosts regained possession and cleared.
In the 10th minute, Dearden turned from hero to villain when he was sin-binned. Newbold pushed the penalty deep into Rasen territory, and despite heroic defence, the resistance was finally broken when play moved infield and Ben Dawes barrelled his way over.
But again the home crowd were disappointed as the floodgates still refused to open.
With the game on a knife-edge, Rasen suffered some bad luck when sub Ollie Cole’s valiant attempt to keep the ball in play from a long Newbold clearance kick was deemed to have gone forward.
Newbold seized this unexpected opportunity and their rock-solid scrum secured possession for their backs who put winger Manny Sidhu in the clear to scoot in under the posts and leave Wookey with a simple conversion.
Chris Everton marked his return from injury with a telling break to the edge of the Newbold 22 before linking with winger Chris Beasley. He returned the ball to his scrum-half, but with the line tantalisingly in sight, a brilliant covering tackle scuppered Rasen’s hopes.
The visitors continued to attack and another penalty was drilled into touch. The Newbold defence held firm to suppress the initial drive, but the ball was moved blind where Grint came up from full-back and miraculously burrowed his way over.
His touchline conversion attempt fell short to leave Rasen just a point short of collecting a losing bonus point.
Rasen battled bravely in the final six minutes, but sadly ended the game with no return for their determined efforts.
There is still a long way to go before the final league outcome is confirmed, but with application, desire and hard work this side can move up the table.
Rasen: C. Starling, Alldridge, Haig (Cole), Mills, L. Dearden (Crowe), Pryer, D. Starling, Chamberlin, C. Everton, P. Everton, Stephens, Brown, Batterbury, Goodwin (Beasley), Grint.
* Rasen return to Willingham Road on Saturday to take on Northampton Old Scouts who narrowly lost to Kettering last weekend.