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Brave Bradford Salem beaten in final 40 seconds
Bradford Salem 16, Doncaster Phoenix 20
If ever there was an heroic defeat, this was it.
Bradford Salem, shorn of five of their first-team squad before kick-off and with another three who were flu hit, came within less than a minute of completing a double over the SSE Yorkshire Division Two leaders.
Doncaster Phoenix’s last defeat had come at Castle Park in October, when Salem triumphed 19-16, but since then the powerful and impressive south Yorkshire side had notched 13 straight league victories.
However, they were staring defeat in the face when they trailed the hosts 13-6 with less than ten minutes remaining.
But it was then that Phoenix’s forward power told against flagging opposition.
First winger Daniel Greenslade got on the end of a 71st-minute drive to score, fly half Dan Storey converting magnificently from the touchline to square matters.
However, Salem still responded, Andy Robinson’s penalty three minutes later putting them 16-13 to the good before emphatically clearing his lines in the 78th minute from a scrum near the home side’s line.
But all the pressure told as Salem lost two of their pack to the sin-bin for pulling down successive mauls.
No 8 Ryan Peacey scored for the visitors in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Storey’s conversion putting Phoenix four points ahead but not denying Salem a losing bonus point.
At the end of a match that had been just as good an advert for Yorkshire Two as Otley’s victory over Stourbridge a week previously had been for National League Two North, Salem’s skipper Damien Pearson, who had given his all in an influential display, was understandably crestfallen.
He said: “It was a pity that we couldn’t finish the game but I am proud of our efforts, especially in defence.
“We have had a good run since Christmas (three wins and a draw in five matches before this) and came within 40 seconds of victory here.”
In what was originally a free week, Salem were missing James Cunliffe and Dave Howcroft (at Twickenham), John Morrell (wedding), John Bradbury (Wembley) and Tony Williams (cage fighting), while hooker Simon Markey was just one player who was battling flu.
The performances against Phoenix, who were so relieved to win at Shay Lane that they jumped into each others’ arms, just makes it all the more frustrating that sixth-placed Salem haven’t been able to show the consistency needed to mount a promotion challenge.
“Sometimes we have failed with the final pass,” explained Pearson but, in a game where the tackling was mostly spot-on, there were few breaks made.
The glaring exception was Salem full back Danny Belcher, who showed beautiful pace and balance to return a kick 65 metres to score in the ninth minute after Storey had put Phoenix ahead with a penalty six minutes earlier.
Andy Robinson’s conversion made it 7-3 to the Heaton club, and an intense half ended with Robinson and Storey swapping penalties to leave the score at 10-6 by half-time.
Belcher’s low, raking penalty extended Salem’s advantage to 13-6 in the 49th minute but a succession of penalties to the visitors arouund the hour mark showed that the tide was turning.
Having cut down virtually everything in their path for 60 minutes, in particular giving Storey little room at fly half, a weakening Salem could not cope with Phoenix’s mauling.
But if Salem can add a bit more consistency to their talented mix next season, there is no reason why they should not be pushing for promotion themselves.