Plymouth Albion were so close to ending their long losing run against Bedford Blues
FOR a split second Plymouth Albion supporters thought their team had finally ended their long-losing run in the Championship with a stunning win over second-placed Bedford Blues.
Canadian number eight Aaron Carpenter scored a try with the last move of the game to pull Albion, without a league win since November 9, to within a point of Bedford with the conversion to come.
Albion fly-half Paul Roberts hit the kick from the touchline well and sections of the Brickfields crowd started to celebrate as the ball headed towards the posts.
But there was a stunned silence when neither touch-judge raised their flag – Roberts' kick had swerved at the last second and missed the target by less than a foot.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Albion's players fell to the floor as referee Steve Lee immediately blew his whistle for full-time after they had once again narrowly lost a nail-biting match. It was the fourth week running Nat Saumi's side had gone down by just a single score.
It was painful to watch the players' efforts go unrewarded again, in terms of a win, but they did pick up two more bonus points to edge them closer to safety and they will have gained confidence from their performance.
The players, though, desperately wanted the victory, and it was there for the taking against a Bedford Blues side who once again nearly slipped up against a bottom half side.
The Blues had needed an injury-time score to beat bottom club Doncaster by just one point, had drawn at Rotherham, lost at London Scottish and were pushed all the way at Jersey.
But the way they started it did not seem like they would have any problems claiming their seventh straight win at Brickfields.
The Blues, who had hammered Albion 55-17 at Goldington Road in October, went 14-0 up and it could have been more, but in the last six minutes of the first half, Albion got going and went in at the break just four points down thanks to a try by Rhodri McAtee and a conversion and penalty from Roberts.
McAtee, who'd enjoyed a good first half, had to go off at the break with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Paul Bailey and he had a stormer for Albion, who played some of their best rugby at Brickfields since September.
Bailey, who had McAtee not got injured might not have come on until later on, caused Bedford all kinds of problems and he really got Albion's backs going in the second half.
Apart from a cup match against Aberavon, tries have been in short supply at Brickfields. They had managed just one in their previous three home games, but they managed four on Saturday – three in the second period.
But it was still not quite good enough to get that all-important 'W'.
The players will look back and think 'what if?' Would the result have been different had they started better or had they gone for goal instead of the corner with three second half penalties?
Once again their line-out let them down at crucial times, conceding one try and losing four in their opponents 22 in the second half.
However, like against Rotherham and Leeds there were far more positives than negatives.
Bedford, who have now won by just one score in three of their last four visits to Brickfields, took the lead on Saturday after less than three minutes.
From a penalty, the visitors went for the corner and from the line-out they drove over with hooker Neil Cochrane touching down. Former Albion full-back James Pritchard added the conversion.
They should have scored a second try six minutes later when the impressive Mark Atkinson cut through Albion's defence before putting James Stephenson away down the right. Stephenson was just five metres from the try line when he attempted to offload only for his pass to hit an Albion player and go into touch.
Bedford pressed from the line-out and Luke Baldwin thought he had scored, but the referee ruled he was held up and only awarded the five-metre scrum to the visitors.
Bedford got a penalty in front of the posts at the set piece but opted for another five-metre scrum and wasted it.
The visitors looked like they had scored again on 29 minutes from another catch-and-drive move, but the referee was unsighted and only awarded them a five-metre scrum.
But the Blues pressed from the set piece and went inside and Stephenson scored near the posts, although Albion felt he had done so with a double movement. The referee, though, stood by his decision and Pritchard kicked the conversion to make it 14-0.
But Bedford got sloppy and in the 34th minute McAtee got Albion back into the game when he scored from close range after the home side had turned the Blues over in their own 22 from the restart.
The visitors had problems with their restarts all afternoon and three of Albion's tries came from them not gathering and dealing with the kicks properly.
With the last move of the half Albion kicked a penalty through Roberts after some good pressure to leave them just four points behind at the break.
That was a massive boost for Saumi's team who had been second best for the first half-an-hour.
But the second half belonged to Albion and they took the lead for the first time just four minutes after the interval when Harrison Tovey crossed in the right corner after a poor kick by Bedford's Jake Sharp was run back by Rupeni Nasiga and Bailey. Roberts narrowly failed with the conversion but Albion were 15-14 up.
Yet their lead lasted just three minutes as Albion lost a line-out and Atkinson broke straight through the middle of the home team's defence before putting Josh Bassett into score, which Pritchard converted.
Bedford, though, messed up at the restart and Albion got a scrum. The home side pressed and Bevon Armitage made a great break before putting Ruairi Cushion in to score under the posts for a simple conversion for Roberts.
That made it 22-21 and Albion had chance to increase that advantage. They got three penalties but on each occasion went for touch only to lose the line-outs.
And with just one minute of normal time to go, Bedford turned Albion over and scored a fourth try through replacement Darryl Veenedaal after another good break by starman Atkinson. Pritchard crucially converted to make it 28-21.
It did not look like Albion would hit back. They did get a penalty two minutes into injury-time and went for a five-metre line-out only to lose it.
But Bedford failed to clear the ball and Albion turned them over. They got another penalty in front of the posts. The referee said that time was up. Albion tapped it and pressed. Eventually they went left and Carpenter was given a try, although Bedford claimed he had been held just short.
It gave Roberts the chance to be the match-winner, but, unfortunately, from the tough angle he could not quite win it for Albion.