BACK-to-back league victories have all but secured Bletchley their place in the South West 1 East for next season, with Swanage & Wareham the latest the taste defeat at the hands of a rejuvenated city side.
A nightmare start to 2011 saw Bletchley drop like a stone towards the bottom of the table, and four straight defeats left them stuck in a relegation dogfight.
But last weekend’s surprise win away at Witney was followed up in style by a 23-17 success against a Swanage side which had only lost five times in 19 games going into their trip to Manor Fields.
And they obviously hadn’t bargained for a Bletchley side determined to put further distance between themselves and the two sides below them in the table, and now sit six points better off than Oakmeadians in 13th and 11 above bottom team Wimborne, who now need a miracle to avoid finishing there.
This weekend’s clash against local rivals Buckingham now presents Bletchley with the chance to do something they have not been able to do this season - win three on the bounce. A win at Manor Fields would also help the city side leapfrog their near neighbours into 11th place and out of the bottom three for the first time in several months.
Bletchley began just as they left off at Witney and took the game to Swanage for the first 20 minutes. They were camped in the visitors’ 22, but for all their dominance a Phil Harman penalty conversion was all the home side had to show for their efforts as the Dorset side defended valiantly.
But Swanage aren’t sitting comfortably in mid-table for nothing, and they started to work a way back into the game. Only a couple of fantastic tackles by lock Adam Dempsey and scrum half Cuan McKenzie prevented them from scoring as the first half progressed.
Bletchley gained possession and flyhalf Harman cleared the pressure with a kick down field. However, Swanage were now starting to show plenty of domination in their forwards and set up a couple of good driving mauls which now put pressure the hosts under the cosh. And it was from one of those mauls from which they broke free to score directly under the posts, with the conversion seeing them 7-3 in front.
Bletchley fought back and kept Swanage pinned in their 22 metres area, forcing the visitors to concede a penalty that Harman gratefully converted to reduce the arrears to one point as they started to gather pace.
Bletchley were now well on top, but the game came to an unfortunate stop for 30 minutes for McKenzie to receive medical attention, just as the hosts had been awarded another penalty.
His injury was so serious that an ambulance had to take him to hospital and it was discovered that he had displaced some cartilage between his ribs.
When the game restarted veteran Sean McCluskey came on at scrum half and Harman kicked the penalty to make it 9-7 to Bletchley.
Swanage were hanging on for the rest of the first half, but managed to score an unconverted try at the start of the second to go back in front.
Their lead wouldn’t last very long though as Dan Read and Adam Johnson combined for the latter to crash over the line, and a Harman conversion made it 16-12 to Bletchley.
They were now firmly in the driving seat, and made their seventh victory this season secure when prop Tom Hannell produced an excellent turn of speed to find a gap in the Swanage defence and touched down.
Harman again converted to leave Bletchley 12 points to the good with only five minutes remaining. But it wasn’t quite game over yet as the visitors were able to take advantage of Bletchley being reduced to 14 men for repeated infringements to go over for a third unconverted try.
Even with some fresh legs on the field it came too late for a dramatic recovery, and Bletchley were able to hold on and claim a significant victory.
Olney will need to get their act together if they are to avoid the disappointment of missing out on a top five finish after what has still been a good season for them.
They went down to a 23-15 home defeat by Witney, and things won’t get easier this weekend as they head to third placed High Wycombe.
It was Witney who made their mark in the early stages as they blew Olney away with two tries in the opening 10 minutes, with one converted.
Full back Jordan Letts scored a penalty to make it 12-3, but the visitors continued to dictate the pace, as Olney managed to make it into advanced positions only a handful of times during the first half. The only further scoring of the first period saw Witney extend their lead by another three with a converted penalty, making it 15-3 at the interval.
Gareth Cahill helped get Olney going in the early stages of the second period, and after Witney had kicked another penalty, the hosts got their first try of the match, courtesy of captain Chris Parnham. The conversion was missed and Witney were 18-8 to the good.
Liam Lancaster and Mo Ormesher were influential in making strong runs, looking certain to score until Olney wasted their chance by giving away a penalty after a player came in from the side of the ruck only yards out from the try line.
Olney lost flyhalf Dave Smith to the sin bin after he talked himself into a yellow card from the referee, but his side at least managed to make the end score a bit more respectable as Parnham scored and Letts converted a try to make it 23-15.
Milton Keynes went without a Southern Counties North game at the weekend, but return to action with a trip to Windsor on Saturday.
A victory would be City’s fourth in five league outings, and could even see them climb to as high as third in the table.