MILTON Keynes director of rugby Ray Bray said his side could not afford to lose another game if they were going to challenge for promotion this season – but that’s exactly what they did on Saturday.
City went down 31-23 at home to Reading Abbey, making it two Southern Counties North defeats in as many games having lost to local rivals Olney a week earlier.
Abbey, relegated from the South West 1 East league last season, visited Emerson Valley having won their first game against Grove, and now join Buckingham, Drifters and Alchester with 100 per cent records. However, it’s free-scoring Buckingham – also relegated last term – who top the table on 10 points thanks to two bonus point wins and a whole load of tries.
Despite City having some enforced changes in the pack, they still produced a good first half performance against Reading. The problem was, they only had a 6-0 lead to show for their efforts at half time – Phil Powell kicking two penalties.
With the amount of possession the hosts had, they should have managed at least two tries in the first half, with the City lineout working much better than at Olney seven days earlier. There were a number of strong takes which resulted in good interchanges between players, but the final pass went astray far too often.
City started the second half playing with a slight slope in their favour. This, plus the level of possession in the first half, surely meant that it was only a matter of time before they scored a try.
However, against the run of play it was the visitors who touched down first when the ball was given away and they raced down the other end to score just three minutes after the break, with the successful conversion putting Abbey ahead.
And it went from bad to worse for City just a few minutes later when another mistake cost them dear and Reading broke to score a second converted try to open up a 14-6 lead.
City were not beaten yet though and some good work from Scott Aspinall and Rob Matthews gave the hosts a try in the corner, and although Powell was unable to convert, the deficit was now just three points.
However, some poor tackling allowed Reading in once again, and although the try went unconverted, the visitors made up for it with a penalty just moments later.
At 22-11 down City again responded well with a breakaway try of their own from Dan Rolfe, with Powell’s conversion cutting the gap back to just three points as an excited finish looked on the cards.
But the hosts failed to build on their momentum, and instead it was Abbey who ended the game strongly, running home two further tries to make the game safe.
Simon Cockleburg scored a late consolation, but by that point the end result was beyond doubt, giving City plenty to think about over the next week.
With a free Saturday to come, they return to action on September 29 with a trip to Slough – where they really must win to get their promotion push back on track.