THE public address system at the Woodlands pumped out a stream of festive songs, but this result was as welcome as a Christmas present from a pound store.
And those who gave up on the annual shopping ritual to watch this match, missed out on a Fylde win and on the expected try-fest.
With both sides normally intent on attack, the surprise was neither side crossed the whitewash in a full-blooded encounter in which both sides were Scrooge-like,
The only ‘touchdown’ was a penalty try by Loughborough at a time the pressure on the Fylde line was at its most intense.
It was an afternoon of frustration for the Fylde backs, who could not penetrate the Loughborough rearguard, though it was not for the want of trying.
Oli Brennand, for instance, will rarely have a better game without actually getting his name on the score-sheet.
On another day and against lesser opponents, he would have had a bagful.
Ollie Viney and Chris Briers also had opportunities, while Richard Kenyon made an impact when he came on, though his earlier introduction would probably have helped.
Fylde certainly didn’t seem to get the rub of the green so far as refereeing decisions were concerned. On occasions, Loughborough looked to have infringed the offside law and some seemingly high tackles went unpunished.
The true turning point was that penalty try, which came at a critical point when Fylde were without their yellow-carded skipper Evan Stewart, meaning they were under the screw in the scrum. These are the fine margins that win and lose rugby matches.
Loughborough drew first blood as fly-half Andrew Hall lofted over a long-range penalty in the third minute.
Both Brennand and Ben Rath had a glimmer of a chance as Fylde attempted to retaliate.
A strong bout of pressure pinned the Students back for significant spells as Fylde sought a breakthrough.
Dan Birchall made a valiant attempt to break through from close range but last-ditch defending by the visitors resulted in a turnover.
Birchall’s fellow prop Tom Lavelle embarked on a barnstorming run near the opponents’ line. He broke a couple of tackles and had two men outside on the overlap, but the front rower elected to go it alone and the ball slipped from his grasp.
In the next phase of play, Loughborough conceded a penalty bang in front of the posts, which Chris Johnson easily stroked over to level the contest up at the end of the first quarter.
Loughborough were soon on the offensive, testing the Fylde line almost to breaking point. They twice went close in rapid succession and then Stewart was yellow-carded.
This left Fylde at a massive disadvantage at scrums. On more than one occasion Loughborough threatened a try, but concerted defence kept them out.
Then the home side had a huge slice of luck when winger Chris Kinloch passed the ball into touch with Fylde scrambling to cover.
The reprieve was shortlived as Loughborough won another scrum and Ryan De La Harpe appeared to be penalised for playing at the ball before it was out.
Either way, referee Tom Davis had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try against 14-man Fylde. Hall missed a straightforward conversion kick in front of the sticks.
Fylde had surrendered their early initiative, with Loughborough in the ascendancy in the second quarter.
The remainder of the first half was a defensive war of attrition in the relentless, driving rain, with Fylde seemingly unable to escape from deep in their own terrain.
Fylde turned round 8-3 down with a fight on their hands.
Josh Beaumont failed to return for the second half because of a hip injury, Paul Arnold coming on.
Lavelle limped off within seven minutes of the restart to be replaced by Pete Altham.
Viney roared through the defence to set up an early Fylde attack and the visitors conceded a penalty, which Johnson converted to cut the leeway to two points.
However, Arnold conceded a penalty two minutes later and Hall was not found wanting on this occasion, with a far more difficult attempt than the one he had fluffed.
Brennand then embarked on a turbo-charged break along the left, which had Loughborough at full stretch.
He passed to Chris Briers, but just as the Fylde centre looked certain to cross he was the victim of pincer-like tackle and coughed up the ball.
Then it was Loughborough’s turn to pound at the Fylde line, but sterling defence saw Mark Nelson’s men hold firm under what was close to maximum duress.
Brennand streaked away from under his own posts and put on the turbo-chargers. It was an amazing surge, and he inter-linked with Ben Rath, who looked to be the victim of a high tackle but the referee gave nothing. The official was not having the best of days, to put it politely.
Kenyon tested Loughborough with a couple of pacy runs before Fylde won a penalty, which Johnson landed on 70 minutes to cut the margin to two points again.
That set up a frenzied, all-or-nothing final 10 minutes, with Fylde attacking hard but Loughborough taking everything thrown at them.
Johnson tried a drop goal to win the contest as the match went into stoppage-time but his effort fell tantalisingly short.
Briers had one final throw of the dice as he tried to feed Brennand but the Fylde wing was bundled into touch, the last act of Fylde’s desperate bid to retrieve the situation.
In the end, they had to settle for a solitary point, which lifts them a place to sixth
Now it’s off to Blackheath next Saturday, though Fylde can hardly expect any pre-Christmas gifts to come their way in the capital.
Fylde: Viney; Rath, C Briers, Barrow (Kenyon,62) Brennand; Johnson, De La Harpe (Wallwork, 77); Birchall, Roddam, Lavelle (Altham,47) J Beaumont (Arnold,40) Banks, Stewart, McGinnis, S Beaumont.