Fylde 39 Esher 22

Scott Barrow tries to evade capture
Scott Barrow tries to evade capture
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Amid scenes of justified excitement, Fylde set the standard for the rest of the campaign with a magnificent performance to claim the scalp of Esher, favourites to win the National League One title.

They overcame a 17-10 first-half deficit to turn on the style in the second half and claim a memorable victory.

Combining the best in attack and defence, Fylde chalked up six tries, four in the second half.

It was a combative match, in which both sides contributed to a splendid spectacle, but Fylde finished the stronger after weathering an Esher onslaught, as the visitors showed their class and credentials.

But if Fylde can replicate this level of performance on a regular basis, then they will be threat to every other side in the division.

Skipper Evan Stewart led from the front with an admirably committed display, which rubbed off on his team-mates.

At times it seemed that Sam Beaumont tackled everything that moved, while Scott Barrow was superb in the centre.

Martin Wallwork, one of the club’s most reliable servants over the last decade, was no mere bit-part player at scrum-half.

It was a display not without flaws – Esher garnered too much of Fylde’s lineout ball for comfort – but they dogged it out when Esher were at their most tenacious, and then finished the job off clinically when there was no time for their rivals to retaliate.

Esher wing Spencer Rutherland made the first clean break, but was stopped by a fine tackle by Ollie Viney. Fylde struck back with several phases of attack, including a promising link-up between Paul Arnold and Barrow, while Oli Brennand had an early run down the left that had Esher on the alert.

Fylde had a narrow escape as Mike MacFarlane knocked on near the line, after Esher had capitalised on sloppy line-out work.

From the resulting scrum, Gareth Morgan kicked an easy penalty for Esher on 12 minutes.

Within a minute, Fylde won a penalty of their own and kicked for position near the Esher line. It resulted in the first try, as skipper Stewart forged over in the corner as the visitors eventually cracked under relentless pressure.

Chris Johnson missed the conversion from wide out.

Barrow made an excellent break, passing to Johnson, whose cross-kick picked out Brennand wide on the left but he was crowded out. Esher hit back hard, winning a succession of scrums near the Fylde line. Prop David Millard looked as though he had got over, but he knocked on as the home side clung on to their slender lead.

Fylde were still under intense pressure, as Esher won the resulting scrum against the head and flanker Benjamin Pritchard dived over. The conversion was goaled by Morgan, so Esher led 10-5 after 28 minutes.

It had proved a high-intensity examination from a side newly-relegated from the Championship, but Fylde drew level on 38 minutes with a carbon-copy of their first try, front rower Dan Birchall smuggling the ball over after a line-out and drive. Johnson failed with the conversion again.

However, Esher scored on the counter in the run-up to half-time.

Kris Chesney unleashed a peach of a pass deep in his own half, setting Christopher Elder free. Fylde were in desperate retreat and had no answer as Sutherland gathered in the final pass to dive over.

Morgan landed the conversion to make it 17-10 to the visitors at half-time. Within four minutes of the restart, Fylde scored again, the ploy of kicking for touch and the catch-and-drive manoeuvre paying dividends for the third time.

Birchall was the Johnny-on-the-spot as he claimed his second touchdown. Johnson was successful this time with the conversion to level the scores.

Esher had the chance to edge in front from a penalty but Morgan was off target. Richard Kenyon, a replacement for the injured Stephen Briers, set up a tremendous Fylde move, feeding Brennand, whose mazy run was halted by a crunching tackle by Elder.

However, Fylde were not to be denied, and went ahead after 58 minutes, when man of the match Stewart latched on to an Arnold offload to touch down, Johnson belting over a fine conversion.

Brennand almost added to Fylde’s lead after a searing break, and it took only a tackle out of the top drawer by Tom Cheeseman to deny what looked a certain try.

Johnson put Fylde two scores clear with a penalty on 64 minutes, only for Macfarlane to plunge over for Esher two minutes later. Morgan missed the conversion, but Fylde’s lead was pegged back to 27-22. Fylde sealed victory with two fine tries at the death, the first scored by Barrow and goaled by Johnson.

Then a loose ball in midfield was pounced on gleefully by Brennand, who galloped 50 yards to the line, defying a posse of Esher defenders.

Fylde: C Briers; Viney, S Briers (Kenyon 51) Barrow, Brennand; Johnson, Wallwork (De La Harpe, 71); Birchall (Livesey 59) Roddam (Loney,59) Lavelle, Arnold, Banks (J Beaumont, 46) Vernon, Stewart, S Beaumont.