Market Rasen and Louth played with a level of determination seldom seen this season as they claimed a hard-fought and deserved derby win at Lincoln on Saturday.
Rasen’s only previous visit to Longdales Park had ended in defeat, but that had been in a Notts, Lincs and Derbys Cup final against Scunthorpe, and Saturday’s opponents were not expected to pose such a formidable threat.
But Lincoln did sit above the Red and Greens in the league after recording some good results in their campaign.
To add the fixture, former Rasen personnel were at the helm of the Lincoln side in the shape of coach Ruari Pike and skipper Leigh Dearden.
Lincoln opted for a large pack, while Rasen went for a smaller, more mobile set of forwards which paid dividends in the early stages where the pumped up visitors harried their opponents and made it very difficult for Lincoln to escape their own 22.
An early run from fullback Tom Stephens had started alarm bells ringing in the home defence as his footwork took him past several leaden-footed forwards before he was grounded, but this only added to Rasen’s confidence.
In the ninth minute, Rasen’s relentless pressure earned them a penalty, but Lincoln breathed a sigh of relief as Ben Young misjudged the blustery wind and his kick sailed wide.
With ball in hand Lincoln soon made it clear their prime intention was to run at the smallest man in the opposition ranks, but despite his stature, fly-half Chris Everton didn’t shirk his duties.
Lincoln’s visits into Rasen territory were limited and one of them ended with a certain amount of inevitability when Dearden received a yellow card, which seemed a little harsh, but came on the back of offsides and questioning of the referee.
Lincoln’s best chance came when number eight Grant Cowe, a thorn in Rasen’s side for much of the game, broke clear, but his abysmal pass bobbled harmlessly into touch.
Tempers spilled over as half-time approached, and in a moment of madness, Lincoln scrum-half Mitch Ashworth threw a punch, dislodging a tooth from Jake McKay to earn a red card, while Rasen’s number eight was yellow-carded for his part in the fracas.
Rasen had dominated the first half, but were unable to capitalise on their territorial advantage as the teams remained locked at 0–0.
On the back of a dominant first half, and a one-man advantage with the return of McKay, Rasen seemed to hold all of the aces, but this was a local derby when adrenaline and mental capability takes over from the anticipated.
An attritional second half was not one for the faint-hearted as Lincoln made light of their numerical disadvantage, but found themselves confronted by an impenetrable Red and Green wall.
This was typified by one shuddering tackle from centre Peter Everton who seems to have rekindled his love of the game.
With almost an hour gone, Rasen ventured into Lincoln territory to earn a penalty.
Dearden still hadn’t learned his lesson and remonstrated with the referee again who duly marched Lincoln back a further 10 metres to put the visitors within touching distance of the line.
Rasen kept calm and knew exactly what they were going to do.
Tom Alldridge drilled the ball into touch and Rasen’s well-worked catch and drive edged closer to the Lincoln line until skipper Ben Chamberlin made the touchdown.
Alldridge added the conversion and Rasen were at last rewarded for their efforts with a quarter of the game still to go.
Lincoln’s touchline support ramped up the volume as they continued to urge on their team, and with both sides tiring the hosts continued to push and built some useful positions.
But their lineout, in particular, malfunctioned at critical times and Rasen continued to clear the danger.
Spreading the ball wide wasn’t an option with a lack of numbers and a well-marshalled defence.
Will Scammell spied a half-gap, and the Lincoln speedster seemed to have breached the defensive line, but a desperate grab of his shirt tail just managed to bring him down to avert the danger.
A heroic effort from the men in Red and Green was greeted with a mixture of elation and relief when the referee finally signalled the end of the game, in contrast to almost total silence from the touchline support.
A typical local derby with no quarter given or asked, but Rasen had been on their game straight from the kick-off.
It is just a pity the domination exerted in the first half couldn’t be turned into points as a mere seven-point win flattered Lincoln.
But the victory demonstrated Rasen’s resolve, denying Lincoln a single point in both of their meetings this season.
On Saturday, Rasen return to Willingham Road for the final league game of the season against relegated Ashby with a 3pm kick-off.
A win will see leapfrog Rasen above Lincoln, but Ashby’s convincing win over Newark means they are going down fighting and shouldn’t be written off.
Rasen: Ashton (Crowe), Alldridge, Southwell, Chamberlin, Grant, J. Norton (Inman), Pryer, McKay, Fenwick, C. Everton, Young (W. Stephens), White, P. Everton, Goodwin, T. Stephens.