National League Two North: Otley 18 Chester 17

MAX Johnson is well and truly on the comeback trail.

“I dislocated an elbow before Christmas two years ago, which put me out for the rest of the season, and the following season I only played about six games due to a pectoral injury, which took a while to get diagnosed and then I had an operation,” said the scrum half.

“However, I got a full pre-season in this year and am feeling much stronger and I played a couple of games for the second team before getting back into the first XV.”

Johnson, who helped Otley to a second successive victory in a thoroughly entertaining clash against Chester in National League Two North, added: “It is good to be back but I feel a bit lucky as Harry Skelton was playing well (he is out due to a pulled hamstring against Stourbridge on September 28) and I was expecting to be on the bench.

“We had a good win last week at Hinckley and a good bus trip and we started well here with a try in the first five minutes but then let them back into it as their back row slowed down our ball at the breakdown.”

Otley certainly caught Chester on their heels, going into a 10-0 lead in quick time via a first-minute try by Johnson.

Fly half Joe Rowntree pinched possession for Otley but it looked as if referee Daniel Woods might blow for a knock-on when the ball went to the floor but there was no whistle and Johnson went over on the left in front of the terracing.

Rowntree added the conversion and then tagged on a penalty in the eighth minute, having missed one four minutes earlier.

Former Otley and Bradford & Bingley player David (Guy) Ford then obligingly knocked on but the next 14 minutes belonged to the fifth-placed visitors.

Lively winger Harrison Vare, former Wharfedale back Matt Van Sertima, fly half Callum Bennett and full back Tom Foden (brother of England international Ben) were all involved in Chester’s first attack of note in the 14th minute, only for an inside pass to be claimed by a home player.

The tide had definitely turned though and with Vare still prominent, Chester got on the board two minutes later with a try by hooker Alick Croft after the visiting pack had won an arm wrestle.

Bennett stroked over the conversion and Chester took the lead in the 22nd minute with a try by lock James Lloyd after they broke cross-field towards the scoreboard.

The conversion was missed by Bennett but the visitors still led 12-10, only for Rowntree to put Otley back in front three minutes later with a well-struck penalty.

He missed a scudder of a shot at the posts in the 28th minute and one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon came two minutes later when Otley won a penalty after pushing Chester off their own ball at a scrum.

Johnson’s intelligent kick through was then knocked on by a home hand as Otley spent the last 10 minutes of the half in Chester territory.

The visitors held the ascendancy at the start of the second half, however, winning a penalty but losing the subsequent line-out and it was hard then not to feel sorry for adventurous Otley winger Henry Roberts.

He seemed to be grabbed by the shirt collar and wheeled around in the 47th minute close to the Otley dug out but no high-tackle ruling was forthcoming and his hurried kick infield went backwards.

It should have been gathered by a colleague, but wasn’t and in the blink of an eye Chester flanker Michael Craven was over for a try in Otley’s left-hand corner.

Rowntree’s kick-off went straight into touch, giving the hosts that sinking feeling, and they needed to push Vare into touch on the left in the 56th minute to prevent a fourth Chester try.

Then Hall knocked on a switch pass from lock Simon Willet that he wasn’t expecting and a Roberts break in midfield led to a sustained home attack which also involved Steele before Otley were penalised.

It seemed like it might not be Otley’s day but with seven minutes to go the influential Mitchell made a half-break near Chester’s 22 and the move went left for Hall and Magee to put Alexander Beaumont over in the corner.

Rowntree missed the conversion but Otley were in charge now, with Magee threatening another try, and they played out the remaining minutes without any alarms to notch a second successive win.

Johnson said: “The bounce of the ball favoured them and we were unsettled for a bit and Henry Roberts was a bit unlucky in not getting a decision over a high tackle when they scored their try in the second half, which we should have stopped.

“But they kept the ball well, we defended both sides of the ruck quite well and we had a strong last 10 minutes, controlling it at the back of the breakdown in their 22.

“Ben Magee made a nice break, which you expect, and there was good finishing from Josh Hall and Alex Beaumont in the corner.”

The replacements certainly helped Otley push on for their victory, with Brett Mitchell, Will Rigg, Callam Sanderson, Ben Steele and Hall all making an impact.

“We had a strong bench,” admitted Johnson. “Brett was at a wedding last week so didn’t start, Will was dynamic at prop and Steely and the others all played their part.”

Otley have risen four places to ninth and Johnson added: “Hopefully there are a few more wins and a few more tries to come for us.”