Market Rasen and Louth paid the price for a slow start as they succumbed to defeat at promotion-chasing Dronfield on Saturday.
Rasen faced a difficult trip to Derbyshire to face a Dronfield side second in Midlands Two East (North) with real promotion aspirations.
The previous weekend’s postponement against Ashby, pulling out due to an alleged lack of front row players, had left the Red and Greens short of match practice and it showed early on here.
An early Rasen attack faltered when possession was lost, a trait that would repeat itself too often as the game wore on, and Dronfield counter-attacked through Joe Farrell whose running skills caused problems all afternoon.
He linked with winger Jack Longden to outpace the struggling chasers and open the scoring after only three minutes.
Farrell added the conversion and then repeated the punishment seven minutes later after James Marshall’s strong running on the opposite wing brushed off ineffectual tackles to power over the whitewash.
Rasen were still struggling to get any sort of foothold in the game and when they coughed up possession, it again found Farrell whose speed, footwork and a final dummy in his angled run took him beneath the uprights to leave himself a simple conversion.
After a disastrous first quarter, Rasen began to get their game together and exert some pressure on Dronfield who found themselves defending in their own 22.
After a series of pick and drives, flanker George Grant marked his return from a lengthy spell overseas by peeling off down the blindside to crash over in the corner.
Without a recognised goal kicker, Ben Young nailed a superb touchline conversion to add the extras.
Dronfield cut loose again with Marshall heading towards the line, but flanker Jake Pryer came from nowhere to fell him with a brilliant tackle.
But the hosts retained possession and after prop Charles Taylor failed to ground the ball, up the ball popped for alert scrum-half Jake Steade to grab the try bonus point and give Dronfield a healthy 26-7 half-time lead.
The temperate conditions had been draining and Rasen now also had to contend with playing up the slope.
Dronfield soon had Rasen defending deep inside their own half and forced a scrum which resulted in another score which was far too easy.
Chris Hale picked from the base to begin a game of draw and pass which ended with a simple run in for Longden’s second try.
Rasen continued to battle away, but lost possession cost them dear again when the hosts released another speedster in substitute Reika Mahmid who dotted down under the posts to leave Farrell with another easy conversion.
Dronfield were out of sight, but Rasen dug deep, causing problems with aggressive driving play to earn a scrum close to the line.
After another series of drives, the ball was released to the backs where Chris Everton, another returnee, cleverly spotted a gap on the blindside and darted through it for a second Rasen try.
Once again the visitors were the architects of their own downfall after successfully repelling another attack and winning a penalty.
But the clearing kick failed to find touch and Dronfield launched another stinging counter-attack, finished by Gregory Cooke and converted by Farrell.
With 12 minutes left, Rasen looked to be heading home with another pointless defeat, but remarkably there was still something left in the tank.
The tireless Jake McKay, who had almost been invalided out of the game after only 30 seconds, burst upfield, brushing aside several would-be tacklers before linking with substitute Will Inman.
The rangy lock took play forward before the backs took over and Josh White’s expertly-delivered long pass was taken by Tom Stephens, steaming up from fullback to cross the line.
Young added the conversion and now Rasen had the tantalising target of a fourth try and a bonus point.
The match was played in a good spirit, but in the heat, tempers began to fray, and with five minutes left, Dronfield’s Cooke and Rasen’s Young were yellow-carded for a minor altercation, perhaps harsh on Young who had come in at the end to act as peacemaker.
With time running out, Rasen edged closer to the line with innumerable pick and drives until, finally, prop Pete Southwell made the line to secure the bonus point. With Young off the field, Southwell had the answer, landing the conversion himself.
Dronfield were the better side, but Rasen only had themselves to blame for giving them an easy start with a poor display of first-up tackling and ball retention.
On Saturday, Rasen return to Willingham Road to take on Ilkeston with a 3pm kick-off.
Rasen: Crowe (Senescall), Ashton, Southwell, Chamberlin, Roberts (Inman), Pryer, Grant, McKay, Fenwick, C. Everton, Wallis (Treadgold), Young, White, M. Starling, T. Stephens.