Following last week's poor showing against Walsall, Kenilworth came to Pickford Grange Lane in an attempt to rebuild momentum for the remainder of the season. Alas it was not to be as Barkers Butts, despite playing most of the game with 14 men, belied their lowly table position to claim a hard-fought victory, writes Ralph Murray.
The omens were not good as the opening kick-off was misfielded by Kenilworth to give the hosts an early attacking scrum 22m out. From the ensuing play the home side looked to have been penalised for holding on but the penalty was awarded in their favour and an early 3-point lead. The home side played the opening minutes with good continuity and looked the sharper side but with barely 15 mins gone play was stopped for what could have been a turning point in the game. The referee called the Barkers' prop to him and, following a lengthy description of what he had seen, brandished a red card to the unfortunate forward. With three quarters of the game to go and with a man advantage the odds were now heavily in favour of the visitors.
In the period immediately after the dismissal Kenilworth looked to establish their advantage and spent long periods in attack but some stout, and well-organised, defence from the Butts kept the score at 3-0. Eventually the Butts were awarded a penalty on half way and, needing to seize every scoring opportunity, the outside-half struck the ball home to extend the lead to 6-0. Now it was Butts who took the initiative and they put some good phases together before being awarded another penalty on the touchline but this proved no obstacle to the Butts' 10 as he nailed his third kick to make it 9-0. Ks were spurred into action by this latest score and some patient build up gives them a 3 on 2 wide left which Glover looked to exploit; deciding to go himself he stepped the marker to go under the posts and Kendall's conversion brought the scores back to 9-7. Almost immediately the next Kenilworth attack brought rewards; Selby, facing limited options, kicked ahead for Beckett to chase and the speedster won the race to the line and with Kendall's second conversion in nearly as many minutes the visitors were in front (14-9) for the first time in the game.
Ordinarily it might be expected that Kenilworth would now consolidate this lead and use their numbers to secure the win but Barkers were having none of it. Some determined running by the centre and some poor tackling by the visitors resulted in another score for Butts and the scores were tied at 14. As half-time approached another Butts attack saw Watts receive a yellow for an infringement at the ruck and the successful penalty meant a half-time lead of 17-14 for the visitors and parity in numbers for the first 10 minutes after the break.
From the restart the Ks were again second best and allowed Butts a good 15m progress before being challenged. The visitors were on the wrong side of the referee for most of the match and the penalty count was now becoming abnormally lopsided; a series of whistles later and Butts were over for another score to stretch their lead to 24-14. From the restart Kenilworth went in search of a score to get back on terms but a Barkers scrum, despite going through 90, was allowed to continue and they ran the ball the length of the field to score in the corner and the lead of 29-14. Back came Kenilworth on attack straight from the restart but all attacks were stifled by continuing penalties; the frustration was clear and some backchat adds 10m before the referee called Captain Cresswell over for a lecture. With admirable determination the Ks continue to press and a lineout possession was spun wide by Selby to eventually reach Clifford who scored in the corner; an outstanding kick from Kendall added the extras and the deficit was reduced to 29-21. The pressure from Kenilworth was relentless now and only some creative hands in the ruck prevented quick ball being secured in the Barkers 22 but the offence was not seen and the chance went begging. Again the visitors surged forward and after a series of pick and drives Thompson looked to have scored from close range but play was brought back for a Kenilworth scrum! A penalty was awarded but Ks were prevented from a quick take; a series of penalties were given away by Barkers as they desperately tried to defend their lead but no further action was taken. Eventually from a penalty lineout, Collett barged over to continue his scoring run and Kenilworth were within a point. But time was against them and Barkers took the victory 29-28.
Worryingly Kenilworth were out-of-sorts for the second week running and have now slipped towards mid-table. It has to be said that Barkers were a committed and well organised opponent who showed real character after losing a player so early in the match to secure this valuable win. The talent within the Ks squad is beyond question and was much in evidence in 2013 but this loss of form needs to be arrested without delay if all that good work is to bear fruit.