What a stunner!
Saturday’s match had everything you could wish for with outstanding tries, competitive tackles, resolute defence and a last-minute climax denying a prized victory for Spalding.
Long Eaton arrived on a crest of a wave having already established themselves as clear league leaders after only five matches, fielding a team of experienced hands and young players from Nottingham Rugby Academy and Nottingham Trent University.
Meanwhile, Spalding welcomed back one or two regular players missing from last week’s trip to Buxton together with experienced Adam McHugh coming in at full-back and Jacob Greaves returning to the front row, having recovered from a fractured collar bone.
The start of the match was delayed for half an hour with the referee suffering a car breakdown en route and a replacement summoned all the way from Doncaster.
With the match finally under way, Long Eaton soon demonstrated their handling and passing confidence in the backs.
Spalding responded in similar fashion with a planned backs call on a counter-attack, but a knock-on allowed a pick-up and a score under the posts for a converted try.
The game ebbed and flowed with scrums evenly matched and both defences on top.
But a rare missed tackle by Spalding allowed Long Eaton’s outside centre a simple run-in.
Spalding immediately responded with a penalty kick by Willis Ingleby.
Long Eaton extended their lead to 16 points with some excellent offloads and support runners, crossing the line in the corner for an unconverted try.
With half-time approaching, Spalding were pressing with typical runs from Ash Anker and Ash Piccaver in the forwards, scrum-half Will Shields looking for gaps around the break down and centres Dan Adams and Tom Wilson crashing the ball up in midfield.
Long Eaton were resorting to some desperate tackling and finally the referee yellow carded the visitors number five, followed soon afterwards by a further forward, reducing Long Eaton to 13 players.
Spalding kicked the penalty to the corner for a lineout and with the ball secured, a driving maul went over the try line with Harry Brown claiming the touch down.
The second half opened with an outstanding try.
From deep McHugh burst into the line, breaking two tackles and offloading to Gav Sharman on the left wing.
Sharman seemed to have outpaced the Long Eaton defence but as the final cover tackle came in Adams was in support to take the pass and score near the posts for a converted try.
The game was opening up and Long Eaton, taking a scrum ball against the head, immediately replied.
Luke Turner came in the front row replacing Kev Hudson who had a solid game and George Brown was also on at outside centre for Tom Wilson.
Spalding were starting to gain field possession against Long Eaton and you could see the visitors were not used to the pressure Spalding were exerting.
From 10 metres Anker forced his way over and the gap was down to just four points.
Long Eaton demonstrated their running and passing ability.
Luckily for Spalding, they butchered a couple of glorious opportunities with the final pass just evading the support runner, but their inside centre finally glided through for a try.
With five minutes left on the clock Spalding, led by Richard Cooke, went in search of points and Long Eaton were penalised for not releasing in the tackle and Ingleby slotted the penalty kick over.
Spalding were now on a charge and with seconds left on the clock, the ball was passed out to Ingleby in the fly-half position.
With Long Eaton’s defence closing, a chip kicked over saw Anker catching the ball and dive over for a try.
But to the dismay of every home supporter, the referee adjudged Anker to have been in front of the kicker and therefore offside.
Spalding had given the league leaders their hardest match of the season and were so close to snatching a dramatic winner in the dying seconds, only to end up with a losing bonus point.
Spalding: Hudson, Barrett, Greaves, Piccaver, Berry, H Brown, Cooke, Anker, Shields, Ingleby, Sharman, Adams, Wilson, Capes, McHugh. Subs: Turner, G Brown, Cole.