Halifax Panthers were edged out in a tight contest at The Shay on Sunday, as Widnes Vikings left town with the competition points thanks to the boot of veteran half back Matty Smith.
Smith’s drop goal 13 minutes from time was enough to seal the points for the visitors on a mud bath of a field in West Yorkshire.
The Panthers were buoyed by picking up their first win of the campaign against London Broncos the previous week, but it was the visitors who started the contest the brightest. Tyler Dupree slicing his way through on the opening set, his offload only reaching as far as James Saltonstall with the winger cleaning up to avoid any early blushes for the home side.
As the conditions dictated, it was a battle of attrition with defences very much on top and kicking for territory the order of the day. The errors began to pile up thanks to the sodden field and soggy ball, with both sides struggling to assert their dominance in attack.
It would remain 0-0 until the 21st minute, when the boot of Smith would undo the Panthers for the first time in the afternoon. On the last tackle, the half backs crossfield kick hung in no mans land, leaving Kevin Larroyer and Joe Martin in two minds long enough for Eribe Doro to pick their pockets and claim it for a score just to the left of the uprights. Joe Edge converting for a 6-0 Widnes advantage.
Despite an error strewn first forty, Halifax would chance their arm on the fringes of the Vikings defence, Zack McComb getting on the outside with the best move of the first half but his kick looking for support would fall kindly into the arms of Danny Craven.
The Panthers would have to endure long periods of pressure on their goal line thanks to the astute kicking games of Smith and Craven ensuring the visitors spent a lot of time in the Fax half. But some solid goal line defence on show from the hosts managed to repel attack after attack.
It only lasted so long though as the visitors would soon nudge their way further into the lead. A penalty for a ball steal giving Joe Edge a chance at goal from bang in front. The centre slotting it over to put Widnes up 8-0 at the break.
The Panthers would come out firing after half time, as they stepped up the intensity with their defence and kick chase. Solid running from Kavanagh would set up good field position, and when the ball was stolen illegally in the tackle, Fax would turn that penalty into points.
The ball being shifted right at pace allowing Ed Barber to put man of the match James Saltonstall over in the corner to get the Panthers back in it. Joe Keyes superbly converting from the touchline to put the hosts firmly back in the contest. And they’d soon be on level terms.
A high tackle on Jacob Fairbank allowing Keyes the opportunity to square the game up from the boot and he made no mistake on 55 minutes for an 8-8 score line.
The Vikings were starting to break as some solid defensive work from Halifax pinned them deep in their own half. But a shooter out of the line would leave space for the Vikings to work it round the outside and help clear their lines. A pivotal point in the clash as the Panthers were starting to get on top.
Soon after, the hosts were penalised for back to back infringements, marching Widnes upfield. And when on 67 minutes Matty Smith found himself in range, the one pointer seemed almost inevitable. A 9-8 Widnes lead approaching the final ten.
Set up for a grandstand finish, the Panthers hammered the Widnes line looking for a decisive opening. But after back to back goal line drop outs, a breakdown in communication meant Keyes was rushed when attempting his own drop goal attempt to level up the game. The resulting attempt skidding along the ground harmlessly much to the chagrin of the home crowd.
And when McComb spilled a crossfield kick from Craven, the visitors had the territory they needed to play out the match and return to Cheshire with the spoils with the narrowest of margins. Final score Halifax Panthers 8 Widnes Vikings 9
Martin, McComb, Arundel, Barber, Saltonstall, Aston, Keyes, Tangata, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Garside, Larroyer
Subs: Jouffret, Gwaze, Fairbank, Calcott
Tries: Saltonstall (48)
Goals: Keyes 1/1
Penalty: Keyes 1/1
Roby, Ince, Fleming, Edge, Holroyd, Craven, Smith, Baker, Fozard, Dupree, Davies, Wilde, Brown
Subs: Doro, Tilleke, Lawton, Hulme
Tries: Doro (21)
Goals: Edge 1/1
Penalty: Edge 1/1
Drop Goal: Smith (67)
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