Market Rasen and Louth RFC finally ended their winless streak in Midlands Two East (North) as they shaded Matlock at Willingham Road on Saturday.
The Red and Greens had last won a game on November 17, and Matlock hadn’t fared much better in recent weeks, recording their last victory on the first day of December, which meant something had to give for both sides on a cold wintry afternoon.
Rasen had plenty to prove after their calamity at Southwell, and started the game determined to right the wrongs of their previous outing.
Straight from the kick-off, Rasen took the game to Matlock and had such control that the visitors barely laid a hand on the ball, patiently working their way up field going through the phases.
It was almost inevitable that Rasen would open the scoring, and when the first try arrived in the 11th minute, it was a beauty.
Rugby league convert Jake McLoughlin, playing at fly-half for the first time, wrong-footed the defence with a superlative behind-the-back flip pass to Spen Holvey who was steaming up from full-back and the youngster did the rest to glide in at the corner.
Josh Lawton added to this wonderful start with a superb touchline conversion. Perversely, this score lifted the siege as Matlock escaped their own half for the first time.
The large Matlock forwards made up for lost time as they battered their way up field and almost scored, but were held up over the line.
The resulting five-metre scrum was just what the visitors wanted, with number eight Tom Wright picking up from the base and crashing over the whitewash.
Rasen had a slice of luck when Matlock full-back James Fairclough failed to deal with an innocuous kick and knocked on in his own 22 without a Rasen chaser in sight.
This set the platform for Rasen to heap more pressure on Matlock who conceded two penalties in quick succession.
Lawton managed to land one successful kick from his brace of attempts, but Rasen couldn’t put Matlock away and there was to be no repeat of the opening monopoly as the visitors again used their forwards to make large inroads into home territory.
A switch of play found Luke Howard in the clear and the winger hugged the touchline before expertly popping the ball back inside to supporting centre Dan Hooton to score and bring the sides level at the interval.
There was much to admire in Rasen’s first half display, but worryingly they had let Matlock back into the game, which was now poised on a knife-edge.
A yellow card for Tom Stephens after four minutes forced Rasen into a rearguard action, but determined defending ensured there was no change to the score when he returned.
Unfortunately, almost immediately Matt Ashton picked up a yellow card and Rasen were back to square one, facing another torrid 10 minutes.
This was a totally different scenario as seven Rasen forwards were always going to struggle against Matlock’s big pack of eight.
The Red and Green defensive line took a real pounding as wave after wave of Matlock forward drives took its toll and a mass of blue jerseys powered over the line to grab the lead.
Tom Morton completed the punishment with a simple conversion directly in front of the posts.
Rasen now had the same benefit Matlock had enjoyed in the first half as the score signalled the end of the siege.
The men in Red and Green now showed a steely resolve, and worked their way back upfield to eke out a penalty four minutes later.
With plenty of time left on the clock, sound thinking from Pete Southwell resulted in Lawton repaying his skipper’s faith with another well-struck penalty.
Ashton’s return put the sides back in equilibrium and reduced the potency of the Matlock set-piece.
But it still remained their most likely source of further points.
Rasen upped the tempo and began to move the ball about whenever possible to test the visiting forwards, and this paid dividends as Matlock were forced deep into their own 22 and conceded another penalty.
With ten minutes left and trailing by four points, Southwell was confronted with another crucial decision.
A try was needed and the skipper requested a kick to touch.
Ashton’s throw was accurate for the lineout to be gathered in and the forwards began their push for the line.
As the red and green pack inched their opponents backwards, a group of backs came running forward to join the maul, but the Rasen eight already had the momentum and fittingly it was Southwell who emerged triumphant from the critical touchdown.
Lawton continued his good kicking form to add the conversion, giving Rasen a three-point cushion.
Time was ebbing away, but Matlock were determined to have the final say as they camped in the Rasen 22.
In a real backs-to-the-wall effort, Rasen conceded penalties which Matlock drilled into touch, allowing their efficient lineout to recycle possession and move closer to the home line.
Fortunately, the visitors ran out of time and Rasen breathed a huge sigh of relief when the referee ended the game.
The players responded magnificently to the previous weekend’s dismal effort and while the performance wasn’t perfect, it was a giant leap forward in standards to break the losing run.
The opening stages of the game were outstanding and should be the benchmark to which the team aspires.
The spirit and togetherness seemed to have returned to the Red and Green ranks, something which needs to be taken into the remaining fixtures.
Rasen return to league action with a difficult away trip to leaders Melbourne on Saturday, February 16 with a 2.15pm kick-off.
Rasen: Howard (Crowe), Ashton, Southwell, Inman, Roberts, Janney, Pryer, McKay, C. Everton, McLoughlin, Young (Pridgeon), Goodwin, T. Stephens, Lawton, Holvey (White).