Jacob Ford left ‘so proud’ as his Bury St Edmunds side overcome early red card setback to beat previous joint leaders Barnes
Bury St Edmunds head coach Jacob Ford was left bursting with pride after seeing his side rally against an early red card and a late yellow to beat previous joint leaders Barnes 25-22.
The battling through adversity victory at the Greene King IPA Haberden this afternoon, following Ben Kelland’s 12th minute red card for a shoulder to the head challenge, was reminiscent of last weekend’s 23-22 scoreline in Surrey to strip Dorking of their perfect record.
Whereas then it had been a 40 metre drop-goal from Kodie Drury-Hawkins which had proved a key moment, this time it was a 45 metre penalty kick from Ben Penfold with five minutes to play which was ultimately telling.
With George Loose executing a high tackle to knock a dangerous run into touch ahead of that moment, they had again found themselves entering the crucial final stages with 13 men.
But once again Ford’s side managed to do enough to hold out and record a fifth straight victory – following tries from Shaq Meyers, Will Affleck and Paddy Robinson – with the scalps of both of the top two now seeing them break into the top four in National League 2 East. And with Dorking only drawing 18-18 at Henley, it leaves the Suffolk outfit seven points off the summit.
"The key word was effort, and I said it at half-time that that's what's going to be the difference to win this game; making sure we're competing on every play. We wanted it a little bit more than them,” said Ford.
"We actually said we had been in a very similar situation last week, down to 13 men at the end against Dorking, and that game there we had 13 men on the pitch and I thought the belief and the desire that we had was unrivalled - no one could question the character of the boys today and last week, I'm so proud of the effort."
Ford made one enforced change to his line-up with Joe Collier coming in at scrum-half to replace Will Christie who was ruled out with a pulled hamstring.
Locally-raised George Grigg-Pettitt, from Hitchin, was making his 50th appearances for The Wolfpack and got the honour of leading the team out after the grounds-team had ensured the fixture beat the wet weather.
Ford had called for his side to ‘serve first’ ahead of the game, having had to come from two tries behind last Saturday, but there was little in it in the opening exchanges.
However, the hosts found themselves reduced to 14 men inside 12 minutes when second row Kelland was given his marching orders for an dangerously high tackle which caught his opponent on the head just inside the Bury half.
Ben Cook put the kick over for an early lead but Bury’s positive response was emphatically rewarded with the first try in the 17th minute. Captain Matt Bursey secured turnover ball mid-way into the visitors’ half and Meyers’ run was found to dart through under the posts, leaving Penfold to a simple conversion.
Bury lost captain Bursey to a hamstring injury but there was no let up in their first-half pressure which was eventually rewarded, amid a couple of yellow cards against Barnes. Kodie Drury-Hawkins kicked over a penalty and, in the 36th minute, found a looping pass out to the right for Will Affleck to finish in the corner. Drury-Hawkins also managed to get the testing kick over for a 17-3 lead.
However, the half ended with a rare excursion into the home half seeing Barnes’ catch-and-drive from a deep lineout get them back to within a score with hooker Ethan Sikorski getting the ball down and Joshua Davies the conversion.
The fear from a large home crowd was that Bury had not got enough points for their dominance ahead of tiring with the numerical disadvantage in the second half.
And the writing looked to be on the wall when Barnes drew level with Davies’ try through the middle, converted by Cook, within three minutes of the restart.
But Bury, who saw Ben Leng go off with a head injury, dug deep again and, after Drury-Hawkins pulled a long-range penalty wide of the posts, made a decision to run the ball from a 57th minute infringement that saw Rory Kassapian shown a yellow inside the 22 fully justify itself. It was Robinson who managed to squeeze through under defensive legs after the ball had been worked out from the scrum and recycled at the ruck, though Drury-Hawkins was unable to add the extra two.
The five-point lead looked precarious as Barnes went close with a catch-and-drive attempt ahead of Loose then leaving his side down to 13 men for all but the last minute.
From the resultant penalty Barnes managed to find the diagonal run of Peter Weightman to level the scores with Cook somehow missing the close-range kick to the home crowd’s delight.
The telling moment then arrived with five to play as Bury opted to kick at goal from a penalty 45 metres out on the left and the Haberden held its breath as Penfold ran up to the tee before seeing his kick sail over.
There was still plenty of work to do in the closing stages but The Wolfpack bared their teeth to halt their opponents’ desperate late attempt to salvage the points and spark wildly joyful celebrations as they reclaimed the ball and Drury-Hawkins kicked out.
“We had to defend pretty hard,” said Ford.
“We knew we weren't going to have the possession and we weren't going to dominate and play the way we want to play and have practised during the week but I think the big thing was we were there last week and we were going fight and compete again and we definitely did that.”
Asked where this leaves his side, having identified the three games against Worthing, Dorking and Barnes as being key to where they will finish, and having won them all, he said: “We're moving in the right direction, especially in the last two weeks when things haven't gone our way, that's really important that we've found ways to win.
"We're just going to keep getting better each week.
"We've got four games in the run-in to Christmas now to make sure that we'll be at our best and then we'll regroup with three weeks off after Christmas and then we can really see what we're going to play for when we come back against Henley in January."
A trip to Westcombe Park lies ahead next Saturday (3pm).
Bury St Edmunds: 15 Drury-Hawkins, 14 Affleck, 13 Loose, 12Leng (Kharbouch 48’), 11 Attfield, 10 Penfold, 9 Collier, 1 Robinson, 2 Bourne (McCartney 55’), 3 Cooper (Jeffrey 59’), 4 Grigg-Pettitt, 5 Kelland, 6 Bursey (Porteous 27’), 7 Meyers, 8 Williams.
Coaches Man of the Match: George Grigg-Pettitt. The forward’s tremendous work-rate on his 50th cap proved to be key.