DUE to bad weather over the winter and and game cancellations, Percy Park faced Carlisle for the first time this season on Saturday.
Last season, honours were even with both sides winning at home, and although Park topped the table going into this game, they were under no illusions as to how tough this game was likely to be, and so it proved.
The torrential rain of the previous few days made for heavy conditions, although the sun did make an appearance before kick-off.
Percy Park kicked off with the sun low in their eyes and a slight breeze in their faces.
Although by this league’s travelling commitments the journey to Warwick Road was not a long one, Park started sluggishly with the coach trip not out of their legs.
The early possession was all in the home side’s favour and they should have scored inside the first few minutes but for a miss-directed pass in the midfield which allowed Park to clear their lines.
Carlisle did score, however, a couple of minutes later when prop Martin Kalinowski went over in the corner after some good handling in the back line after a quick tap penalty. Fly-half Grant Connon kicked the difficult conversion.
Park recovered their composure and set up an assault on the Carlisle try line, with Chris Reekie being stopped just short.
The referee was playing advantage for a Carlisle offside, but arguably could have let play develop instead of blowing for the penalty.
Park opted for the shot at goal and Ash Smith duly kicked the points to reduce the home side’s lead on 16 minutes.
The visitors then started to exert more pressure and Carlisle were forced to concede four penalties in a row, but none were in kickable positions.
Park’s best chance came moments later when the ball was shipped wide to Howard Stock, who was clear in space to go over the line, but referee Harrison pulled play back for a Carlisle penalty for obstruction in midfield.
Percy Park looked the side more likely to score but were guilty at times of over elaborating play, and with a greasy ball, handling errors often halted progress.
With the first half coming to a close, Irish under-20 Connon stretched his side’s lead on 42 minutes with a penalty.
In the second half Carlisle had a chance to go further ahead with a penalty, which Connon missed.
Percy Park had the slight upper hand in the set scrum, disrupting the Carlisle ball, but the lineout was not up to the usual standard.
The visitors did manage to rumble the ball well, with phase after phase of forward drives which eventually led to Reekie going over the line for a try which Smith converted to level the scores.
Carlisle restarted and immediately Park returned to the attack.
A flowing move involving the Park three-quarters put Ali Blair in space and with two on two he tried to go through the gap but was sandwiched between two defenders and was then penalised for handling the ball on the ground.
Percy Park were then awarded a penalty on half way and scrum-half John Scott took a quick tap and set off upfield.
The ball was recycled to Reekie on the charge taking out several defenders in his wake, and again Carlisle were penalised in front of their posts 35 yards out.
Smith coolly kicked the points for Park to take the lead for the first time in the match with only seven minutes of normal time left for play.
Carlisle tried in vain to get into the Park half, to get close enough to mount an attack, but lost possession when Reekie made the ‘hit’ of the day with a blockbusting tackle causing the ball to spill forward. Play was stopped for some time as the winded Carlisle player received treatment.
From the resulting scrum, Park scrum-half Scott broke upfield and off-loaded to Blair on the blind side.
The Park wing made good ground before being tackled, but stayed on his feet, driving for the line, giving time for the forwards to arrive to take the ball on, first through Sean Williamson, before the ball was passed to Andy Dunn who powered over the line to score on 88 minutes.
Smith kicked the conversion, and a short time after the restart the whistle went for the end of the game.
This weekend is top-versus-second as Park travel to West Hartlepool.
It is also cup weekend, with Park Lions playing Corbridge Centurions in a league and cup double header, the Pumas playing Wallsend and the Marauders playing Blyth III.
For the first time this season Percy Park Penguins, (veterans), take on West End in the Northumberland No. 5 cup.
The Academy are also in action at home to Wigton in the league, making it the first time for some years that Park has attempted to turn out six sides on a Saturday.