Purnell kicks seals victory as Ashfield made to battle

Strong line out jumping by James Kirk sets the platform for another Ashfield attack.
Strong line out jumping by James Kirk sets the platform for another Ashfield attack.

A last-gasp penalty from Gareth Purnell carried Ashfield to the narrowest of victories over Long Eaton and stretched their unbeaten run to seven matches.

The hosts looked in trouble at Larwood Park against their mid-table visitors after trailing 10-3 at the interval.

Ashfield's Jones (No. 8) sets up the ruck, Housemen and Kirk set off on the second phase.

Ashfield's Jones (No. 8) sets up the ruck, Housemen and Kirk set off on the second phase.

But they refused to lie down and were rewarded for their persistence in what was a terrific spectacle, with both sides deserving great credit.

With neither team taking the initiative in the early exchanges, it took a penalty to Ashfield to kick-start the game.

As Long Eaton’s forwards persistently spoiled the rolling maul that the Ashfield forwards had set up - Chris Houseman, Mark Denman and the ever-youthful Gareth Jones all played their part - Purnell slotted the ball over from a central position.

This score should have been the catalyst for Ashfield to dominate the game, but it just served to stir the Long Eaton resolve.

Their forwards began to set the platform that eventually unleashed their entire back line, sending in their full-back in for what looked a certain try.

Jake Manning had other ideas, however, as he somehow managed to wrap the Long Eaton player up and position himself between ball and the ground to prevent a score.

But Ashfield did not heed the warning and a penalty was conceded by the home side soon after, presenting an easy score for the opposition fly-half to tie the score at 3-3 after 18 minutes.

The Long Eaton momentum built again and it allowed Shane Whiting over for a well-worked try that had his opponents, for once, missing a crucial tackle. The conversion made it 10-3 to the visitors.

Ashfield bounced back through strong running by Guy Jones and Aidan Richardson that brought the forwards back into play, while Dan Chapman, Matt Turnbull and James Kirk worked tirelessly to carve out an opening.

A second opportunity was presented to Purnell to close the gap in the lead up to half-time, but this time he sent the ball wide of the left-hand upright from 30m out.

The second period got off to a bad start for Ashfield as scrum half Tom Childs was adjudged to have obstructed a chasing player and was made to sit out 10 minutes in the sin bin.

The visitors built phase after phase to push the home side back, until a piece of magic turned the game on its head.

Ashfield, through Scott Chapman, stole the ball and a platform was set to unleash the backs, but Billy North, instead of passing down the line, chose to chip the ball into open play between the visitors’ back line and full-back.

The ball bounced perfectly into the fly-half’s arms, allowing him to scamper 30m to score a great try that would have graced a higher stage.

The conversion was missed but, with a two-point gap, Ashfield were now back at full strength for the final stages.

A five-minute spell that involved just about every home player saw Brent Leivers and Gareth Jones both go close.

With time beginning to run out, a Long Eaton forward was shown a yellow card, meaning he would play no further part in the match.

Purnell was presented with a penalty kick that could have won the game for Ashfield, but he pushed his effort to the right of the far upright. North was also denied with a drop goal attempt.

But Ashfield did not give up, despite determined defending from Long Eaton’s 14 men, and when a penalty was awarded to Ashfield 22m out, Purnell composed himself to make no mistake and seal a fine comeback.