MILTON Keynes staged a fantastic second half comeback to beat local rivals Aylesbury 28-22 on Saturday and move to within six points of top spot.
City’s fifth straight Southern Counties North league win was a vital one as previous leaders Grove went down to Buckingham and were replaced at the summit by Reading Abbey.
The men from Emerson Valley sit fourth in the table, but it’s very tight at the top and third placed Buckingham provide the opposition for their next must win game on November 17.
City can hardly afford to drop a single point from now on if they are to fulfil their pre-season ambition of securing the league title and promotion. But they made life difficult for themselves when struggling Aylesbury came to town on Saturday, and had to produce a spirited second half performance to snatch the win.
Playing down their favoured slope in the first half, City made a poor start as the visitors enjoyed the majority of play, and would have taken an early lead if they had converted a relatively easy penalty which got held up in the wind.
The hosts suffered a blow after 15 minutes when prop Lewis Garnett went down injured, with the game stopped for several minutes while he received treatment. And when it restarted Aylesbury seized the initiative to run home the first converted try of the afternoon.
Two Phil Powell penalties saw City reduce the deficit towards the end of the first half, but before the sides went in at the break, Aylesbury took advantage of some more slack defending to touch down their second try and open up a 12-6 lead at the interval.
Defeat in this game might have ended City’s chances of promotion this season, and with that in mind they began well after the restart – Scott Aspinall running in their first try and Powell converting to put the hosts ahead after 15 minutes of the second half.
Five minutes on and Gavin Whitehead went over in the corner to increase City’s lead to six points at 18-12, with Powell unable to convert from out wide.
And that lead was increased again with 10 minutes remaining when the strength of City’s forwards saw them push through in the corner and Richard Hill take the credit. Again Powell missed the chance for two extra points, but City now had clear daylight and looked set for an impressive victory.
However, the game wasn’t quite over yet, as with a little over five minutes left on the clock, Aylesbury charged in two tries in quick succession to almost turn the game on its head. The one saving grace for City was that they missed both conversions, keeping the hosts one point behind at 23-22.
With the result on a knife edge, City kicked the ball way up field, leading to Stuart Tomkinson going over in the corner – much to the relief of the home side as they moved six points clear.
Still the points weren’t quite in the bag though as Aylesbury came back strongly, and only some heroic defending kept them out in the dying seconds as City hung on.
While Milton Keynes did their promotion hopes some good, Olney’s title credentials suffered another knock when they went down 20-19 at Alchester, keeping them fifth in the table.
After the hosts missed a penalty chance to open the scoring, they took their next one to get the first points on the board, and a few minutes later raced home a converted try to open up a 10-0 lead at half time.
Things got worse for Olney at the start of the second half as Alchester ran home their second try, converted for 17-0. But the visitors weren’t beaten yet and forced their way back into the game thanks to a clever piece of play from Livesy who took a quick penalty and ran through to score under the posts. He then converted to cut the gap back to 10 points.
Alchester replied with a penalty to make it 20-7, but the hosts then conceded a penalty try, allowing Olney to get back in contention after Livesy slotted over the simple conversion.
At 20-14 it was still anyone’s game, and it looked like Olney were on course for a dramatic recovery when a strong driving maul saw Edwards touch down to bring the visitors within a single point of Alchester.
Livesy had the chance to put Olney in front, but agonisingly watched his kick bounce back off the woodwork, and it wasn’t to be the visitors’ day.