For Charlton Park this game had warning signs written all over it. Despite their league position Deal & Betteshanger’s recent record has been good, their defeats have been close, and they pushed Park all the way in the corresponding fixture. So, disappointing as it was for those who are hoping for a play-off game for promotion, this result did not come as a shock; in all honesty Park did not look like a team that stands third in the league.
Charlton had to face the gusting wind in the first half and could be quietly satisfied by the 12-13 scoreline at half-time, but despite having slightly more of the advantage in the second period Deal’s increased ferocity in defence held them out. The big difference lay in the backs, where Charlton never really managed to get to grips with their ability to get the ball wide quickly, and captain Luke Armstrong was a constant threat from full back. The Deal fly half Matthew Halpin also controlled the game with his array of wide passing and kicking – it was his clever cross kick to the corner that led to the decisive try and his booming penalty downwind in the first half from halfway that set the alarms ringing.
Charlton Park’s four tries were one more that Deal managed, so their two points offered some consolation for the loss, but Horsham’s big win at Dover has put them in the driving seat. The two leading scorers both added to their tallies in the first twenty minutes. A counter-attack from Josh McMullan brushed off several tackles and Jake Conway was on hand, as always, to finish and Rob Saunderson took advantage from the back of a driving maul, but in between Armstrong had shown his threat running through some weak defence. Park created more chances, with runs from Jeremy Montes and Reion Raybe going close but not as close as Ben McMullan who burst through, chipped over the defence and then spilled the ball on the line to spoil what could have been the try of the match.
A try ten minutes into the second half gave Park the lead. A series of drives were repelled but when the ball was moved Tommy Nightingale had the speed to get in at the corner. It was now that the visitors had the opportunity to get a grip of the game and they battered at the line but the Deal defence was strong.
They broke out and moved the ball away, Park were unable to defend at close quarters and a try and conversion put the home team back in front. With their tails up Park’s defence was stretched again and left winger Sam Seymour touched down Halpin’s kick.
The game ended almost in farce. A five metre scrum to Charlton took about five minutes before a Deal prop was yellow carded and the match sank to unopposed. Immediately Mark Harlow-Singh celebrated his return after two months absence with a try under the posts. A conversion would have made it a one-point-game, but Connor McDonald’s attempted drop was smothered and anyway Deal grabbed the ball from the kick off.
What to say. Deal adapted much better to the swirling wind, defended hard and, in what is becoming a recurring theme of the season, kicked their kicks (10 points to Park’s 2). See last week. Charlton Park never gave up, even during the late scrum fiasco, and had plentiful chances, but… Mamma said there’d be days like this.
Next week is another blank. We wish good luck to our neighbours at Old Colfeians in their Intermediate Cup match at Letchworth, and we reconvene for Aylesford Bulls at home on the 23rd. The season is not quite over – Horsham has still to play Colfes.
Thanks to Jack Adams for the photographs