MILTON Keynes’ Southern Counties North promotion hopes received a significant boost when they beat local rivals Buckingham 26-15 at Emerson Valley on Saturday.
Five weeks after Buckingham ran out 79-10 winners against an understrength City side in the Bucks Shield, the tables were turned when the two title rivals went head-to-head again in easily their most important clash of the season to date.
For City, victory was crucial to maintain their promotion push, with Reading Abbey in danger of opening up a substantial lead at the top of the table. But win they did to move above Buckingham into third place ahead of a tough run of games, including a trip to Drifters this Saturday, before second placed Grove visit.
City’s win was richly deserved, not just for their performance on the day, but also for their effort in training leading up to the game. Not only did the team train on Tuesday and Thursday nights as normal, but an extra session was added on Wednesday to make sure they prepared as well as they possibly could.
However, things didn’t go to plan straight away as the visitors scored the first points of the afternoon under the posts, making the conversion easy for a 7-0 lead after just a couple of minutes.
Stunned by that, City took a while to settle, but got their first points on the board courtesy of a routine Phil Powell penalty, before he missed another more ambitious attempt from the centre spot.
A cagey start continued as the two sides then traded penalties – Buckingham converting first before Powell soon followed suit to make it 10-6 to the visitors.
City were starting to grow in confidence though, and moved ahead 10 minutes before the break when a string of good passes ended with Darren Brodrick scoring in the corner. Powell missed the conversion, but the hosts had edged in front by a point.
However, City suffered a blow after that with Dave Brown receiving a yellow card, leaving the home side with 14 men for the rest of the first half and start of the second.
Hoping to keep Buckingham at bay for as long a possible, City’s task was helped by another Powell penalty early in the second half, stretching their lead to 14-10.
And better was to follow 12 minutes into the second period when the home side put together a great set of passes and that man Powell side-stepped his way through to score. He then picked himself up to kick the extras and City were looking good at 21-10 in front.
It wasn’t game over yet though as Buckingham responded with a try of their own to set up a nervous last quarter of an hour. Fortunately the conversion attempt was off target and City held a six-point advantage.
A heart-stopping 10 minutes slowly ticked away, but City were able to make the game safe in the closing stages when Gavin Whitehead rampaged up the slope to touch down in the corner. There was no conversion from Powell, but the home side had done their job and a fantastic victory was in the bag.
>> Olney’s promotion hopes are also still very much alive after they produced a magnificent second half comeback to beat Aylesbury 34-10.
Aylesbury got the first points on the board with a penalty, and a repeat of their Bucks Sheild win at Olney earlier in the season looked to be on the cards when the visitors ran in the first try of the day, converted for a 10-0 lead at the break.
However, the second half was a different story as tries from Dylan Winter (2), James Hawken, George Stanton and Chris Small saw the hosts battle back for a memorable victory, with Hawken adding three conversions and a penalty to his tally.
The win sees Olney keep pace with the top four in the Southern Counties North ahead of their trip to Buckingham on Saturday.