BATTLING Cinderford secured a great escape at Dockham Road, edging Loughborough Students out 22-19 despite a 19-3 deficit at half-time.
Cinderford came into this game with the weight of relegation pressure on their shoulders.
The Foresters were sitting in 15th place in National One and though they have two games in hand, the threat of the drop is very real.
Loughborough beat Cinderford 36-28 in the reverse fixture but have had a season of mixed fortunes, and are currently in 11th only five points clear of danger.
Starting slowly has been Cinderford’s achilles heel this season and so it was again.
Lethargy in defence allowed the visitors to twice cross the whitewash, while simultaneously squandering every chance they got in the Loughborough 22.
Wing and kicker Alex Davis has a blistering start, scoring two tries in quick succession. He dived over under the posts in the eighth minute after a run-in from the 22 and kicked the simple conversion.
And in the 11th minute, a superb kick to touch set up the second try. The students stole possession at the line-out and clever passing and cute offloads spread Cinderford defence thin before Davis squirmed over in the corner.
The difficult conversion was expertly taken and Loughborough had earned a 14-0 lead.
Cinderford’s efforts to reduce the arrears were fruitless as each foray into the Loughborough 22 was a wasted chance.
Winger Sam Baker came close after squirming out of several tackles but Cinderford were penalised for crossing and Loughborough cleared their lines.
Tom Hicks was superb in the line-out, twice stealing the ball from Loughborough hands and it was from one of these efforts that Cinderford attacked from, until centre Robbie Winchle fired a pass into touch.
Jack Adams’ run to the line came inches short but he had the overlap and should have passed. Cinderford then lost possession and the chance was gone.
Loughborough were pinged for holding on and Wilcox kicked into the 22, but again possession was spilled in what was fast becoming the story of the half.
An Adams' knock-on squandered promising territory but all was not lost. Cinderford got their first points on the board with a Wilcox penalty right in front of the posts.
But Loughborough would have the final say; from a scrum in the middle of the pitch, Davis made a scintillating run down the wing. Wilcox’s covering tackle would not bring him down and he dragged the full-back-cum-fly-half behind him before offloading to fly-half Sam Katz to cross the whitewash. Loughborough missed a penalty just before the break but went into the changing rooms with a 19-3 advantage.
Cinderford came out fighting for their lives.
Winchle made a blistering run into the Students’ 22 and after several phases, flanker Roger Birkin crashed over in the corner. Wilcox’s conversion sailed wide and the Foresters still had work to do.
Flanker Will Keenan made a stunning break into the Students’ 22 but he made the wrong decision under pressure. Instead of running in, his panicked offload was intercepted. Loughborough’s counter-attack was knocked on and Cinderford capitalised.
With Loughborough scrum-half Tommy Pointer out cold, referee David Procter allowed play to continue and Adams finally secured a try in the corner.
After a lengthy pause as an ambulance was called for Pointer, Wilcox kicked the conversion and Cinderford had reduced the deficit to just four points.
Winchle was binned for a dangerous tackle on Eoin Cremen, but Loughborough prop Jay Rudland-Thomas also saw yellow for straying offside in the red zone.
With time running out, Cinderford pounced. A barraging driving maul inched towards the line and a penalty try was awarded to the vociferous home support’s delight. Wilcox slotted the simple conversion in front of the posts and Cinderford led for the first time in the game 22-19.
A nervy two minutes ensued but Cinderford held out the driving Students to secure a miraculous escape and secure a vital four points.
CINDERFORD: S Hawley, N Codlin, J Adams, R Winchle, S Baker, M Wilcox, C Stuart-Smith (D Pointon, 40), W Davis, T Bozzard, E Booley (T Heard, 66), T Hicks, E King (L Randall, 48), R Birkin, W Keenan, G Mills (c)
REPLACEMENTS: R Charles, S Hanks
LOUGHBOROUGH: J Pons, C Dowsett, R Owen, G Eastwell (H Elrington, 72) A Davis, S Katz, T Pointer (T James, 53), H Rudkin, J Fields, A Alo (J Rudland-Thomas, 44), E Taylor, J Albon, J Freeman (c), E Cremen, B Pons (G Messum, 74)
REPLACEMENTS: C Surman
REFEREE: David Procter
STAR MAN: Tom Hicks