Cornwall-Devon: Liskeard-Looe can still beat the drop, insists boss Mark Goldsworth
LIONS boss Mark Goldsworth insisted his Liskeard-Looe side can beat the drop after a plucky fight-back against city side OPMs.
It was a fight-back in every sense of the word as both sides indulged in some off-the-ball skirmishing, leading to a frequent tellings-off by the match referee which culminated in a threat to abandon the game if the two teams didn't behave themselves.
Liskeard-Looe, 17-3 down at the interval and seemingly on the canvas, picked up a valuable losing bonus point as they stormed back to within five points of their hosts in the second half, despite losing a player to a red card.
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However, the defeat leaves them nine points adrift of Newquay Hornets, the team they must overtake if they are to stay up.
Goldsworth, with four games left to pull the Lions' bacon from the fire, reckons his team can do it.
He said after the game: "I think we can get ourselves out of trouble – our next three games are at home and we are strong at home."
The Lions' head coach said his side had struggled with players unavailable due to work commitments, which left the club in a position of not being able to field the same side every week.
He said: "We've got 18-20 players who are capable of playing at this level, but we haven't got the depth of squad to cover them if they can't play. We've got a lot of manual workers who have to work away sometimes and it means we struggle as a club."
OPMs, promoted as runners-up from Devon One last season, emphasised their right to be in the division as they gained revenge for a defeat at the Lions earlier in the season.
Full-back Tom Finnie was their spark in the first half, knocking over a penalty which was answered by a kick from Lions' James Noel-Johnson.
Finnie uncharacteristically missed a long-range penalty, but OPMs went further ahead when the elusive Chris Harmer broke three tackles on the left wing with his first touch of the ball and set up a cross-field move which ended when Richard Morton broke free on the right to touch down.
The OPMs' full-back converted, then minutes later received a pass in his own half and blasted down the right to score in the corner. From an acute angle which would have given Pythagorus second thoughts, Finnie curled in the conversion.
He did it again early in the second period, smashing over a penalty which gave OPMs a 17-point lead. However, in a game which saw players popping in and out of the sin-bin like jack-in-the boxes, the Lions coped best with the disruption.
Their man of the match, Brad Burchell, touched down after bursting through the centre and Noel-Johnson converted. Lions, with one of their men red-carded for the incident which led to the match abandonment threat, looked the more positive in the game's last phase.
Louis Elliott was too quick through the middle for the otherwise solid OPMs defence and touched down, the conversion nailed by Noel-Johnson.
Lions put in a brave performance as the minutes ticked down, but the OPMs defence stood strong and left the visitors languishing one off the bottom of the table.
OPMs head coach Leigh Puttock said: "I'm happy with the win after two defeats (in a row).
"We're cemented in the league now and next year we will be looking to push on. Next year, we'll be aiming for the top four, which I look on as a separate league of its own."
SALTASH secured their 12th victory of the season and remain fifth in the standings after a hard-fought clash with struggling Crediton.
Ashes scored three tries and might have had a fourth as the hosts gained the momentum in the second period.
Completing the double over a hard-to-beat Crediton side puts Saltash nine points clear of sixth-placed OPMs and just three adrift of Hayle, who are fourth, and with two games in hand of both those rivals.
Saltash's tries came from Josh Webb, Steve Hillman and Will Morten, while Max Venables' unerring kicking bagged the remaining points for the hosts.
Head coach Nick Skinnard praised third-from-bottom Crediton's spirit but felt the victory was just.
Skinnard said: "We knew Crediton were a better team than their league position suggested, but I think we did enough to earn the victory.
"They went ahead early on and deservedly so, as Crediton were playing very well.
"But we kept our heads after going behind and built up a good lead in the second half before, perhaps, relaxing too much and letting them get closer to us than we should have let them.
"The players and coaching staff were never under any illusions that this was always going to be a hard match, and not a repeat of our (23-5) victory at Crediton in October.
"I'm just pleased we've beaten them again and keep our aim of finishing as high as we can in the league a realistic ambition."