Old Albanian throw it away against Loughborough

Old Albanian lost at home to Loughborough (Picture by David Buxton)

Old Albanian lost at home to Loughborough (Picture by David Buxton) - Credit: Archant

FOR the second time at home this season Old Albanian were taught a sharp lesson in sticking to a basic, successful game plan and doing so for a full 80 minutes.

Last September Blackheath had shown Billy Johnson’s team the wisdom of waiting until the final whistle before relaxing, even after running up a seemingly unassailable lead.

On Saturday OAs once again decided that an hour’s solid endeavour would be sufficient to win this fixture and avenge the defeat suffered in October at the University ground. Loughborough had other ideas.

For some weeks, in fact months, Albanian supporters have been shown that their side have not only one of the best attacking platforms in this league but also one of the strongest defences.

The win at Ealing was based on implacable defence and, more recently, Fylde and Blackheath have been overturned thanks largely to aggressive tackling carried out remorselessly by players taking responsibility for whatever situation faced them.

This responsibility was collectively abrogated last weekend and anyone watching the last 30 minutes of the game could have been forgiven for thinking that the visitors were hotly chasing promotion rather than fighting their way out of the nether reaches of National League 1.

It has been said many times by many clubs this season that in this fascinating league any team can win against any other team. This was a result which should not have been possible.

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Operations opened in familiar fashion on this crisp, dry day as the hosts drove well won possession into the Students’ 22. Despite the initial thrusts being made outside the scrum it was Brett McNamee who scored first with a typical, bullocking charge. Lawrence Rayner’s conversion attempt didn’t quite make it.

Fifteen minutes passed before the scorer was troubled again and this time it was Loughborough’s eventual man of the match Joe Atkinson who finished his side’s first credible attack. Stuart Hall converted.

This quarter should have seen the end of Loughborough’s challenge with a brilliant brace by Stefan Liebenberg and a fine bonus point effort from skipper Johnson, all improved by full back Rayner.

Things got even more ominous for the visitors when Eoin Cremen and Joe Burton were sin-binned for indiscretions and they were probably relieved to turn round 26-7 down.

By this time Rob Farenheim had replaced Andy Daish who suffered a shoulder dislocation and Mike Allan was on for Ollie Marchon whose head wound was treated by his surgeon father.

The second period began as the first had ended. Both wingers showed a clean pair of heels, Chris May first on the right and a newly tailored Marchon chasing a kick ahead on the left. Rayner converted both.

Then, having achieved 40 points, Albanian handed the baton to Loughborough.

For reasons which are not immediately clear the right hand side of the Albanian makeup suddenly became a lot less like a bastion and a lot more like a revolving door and Atkinson was the first to make use of it after 54 minutes. Hall added the extras.

Three minutes later Craig Dowsett obliged before Students’ pressure forced a penalty try just past the hour-mark. Hall improved both and, to use the vernacular, ‘suddenly it was game on’.

Inside centre George Eastwell’s well-worked try and Hall’s conversion, with 10 minutes left, showed a subdued home crowd that an unlikely reverse was in the offing and McNamee’s yellow card two minutes later almost sounded the requiem for OA’s hopes.

Winger Chris Kinloch joyously completed the damage and Craig Holland’s kick sent the delighted Students home with a two point victory.

The rearranged fixture with Esher takes place this Saturday and they will have been more than interested to see this result.

There are anything up to a dozen players unavailable for this game after injuries, contract obligations and representative call-ups have taken their toll.

The side has dealt with adversity before and there will need to be a dramatic re-think in attitude in the coming few days to cope with the challenge ahead. Kick-off is 3pm at Woollams.