MILTON Keynes’ Southern Counties North League title hopes suffered a major blow on Saturday when they went down 35-20 to fellow promotion hopefuls Grove.
City’s first defeat in five games means they drop from second place to fifth and are now nine points adrift of table toppers Beaconsfield – the only other side to beat them this season – after they recorded a seventh win in eight against lowly Slough.
City went to Grove also having lost only once this term, but struggled against both their hosts and the referee in a game that saw them receive a shocking three yellow and two red cards.
By the end of the match they had been reduced to just 13 men and had no hope of winning what was a fairly even contest for the first 70 minutes.
In fact the game didn’t start too well for the visitors either as they conceded seven penalties inside the first seven minutes in Oxfordshire – the last of those proving the final straw for the referee who showed the first of those yellow cards to City captain Richard Hill.
Grove took advantage of that decision and converted their penalty to give them an early advantage. With 14 men City did well to restrict Grove, but the home side were able to extend their lead moments later when they used their extra man in the pack to drive a rolling maul towards the visitors’ try line, resulting in a penalty try being awarded for City being caught offside and the conversion made it 10-0.
City’s first score came 20 minutes into the game with a penalty converted by Phil Powell. However, the 10 point lead wasn’t cut for long as Grove replied via a penalty of their own a couple of minutes later.
But City were firmly back in contention before the break as Hill made amends for his earlier yellow card by scoring a try late first half try. A penalty was quickly taken and Hill burrowed through from a couple of metres out. Powell superbly converted from close to the touchline and the gap was down to three points at half time.
However, things didn’t go according to plan for City after the break as with just a couple of minutes on the clock, Wayne Kelly was sent off for what to both sides agreed was an innocuous tackle across the chest.
City’s players objected to the decision as the hosts were given an additional 10 metres closer to the City try line, which put it within distance of their kicker who dually converted.
Despite being down to only the 14 men, City were still competing well and hoped a late flurry could still turn the game back in their favour. However, their cause quickly became all the more difficult when Ashley Hill was the next man to see yellow.
But suddenly their was genuine hope when with 20 minutes of the second half played, some great back play put Gavin Whitehead through to charge over in the corner. The conversion would have seen them in front for the first time, but Powell was off target and City trailed by just one point at 15-16.
They would end up paying for that miss though as in the closing stages Grove took advantage of some confusion in the backs to intercept the ball and race through to score. Kieran O’Connell then got his name on the scoresheet by scoring in the corner with 10 minutes to play, giving City a slim chance, but further problems arose when Talbot was sent off in the closing stages, meaning City played the last five minutes with just 13 men and a further breakaway try sealed the victory for Grove.
In the South West 1 East League, Olney stay rooted to the foot of the table after a 59-0 thrashing by High Wycombe, while Bletchley fell 30-10 to Reading.