Plymouth Albion agonisingly close to ending winless run
For a split second, Plymouth Albion supporters thought their team had finally ended their long losing run in the Championship with a stunning win over second-placed Bedford Blues.
No.8 Aaron Carpenter scored a try with the last move of the game to pull Albion, without a league win since November 9, to within a point of Bedford with the conversion to come.
Albion fly-half Paul Roberts hit the kick from the touchline well and sections of the Brickfields crowd started to celebrate as the ball headed towards the posts.
But there was a stunned silence when neither touch-judge raised their flag – Roberts' kick had swerved at the last second and missed the target by less than a foot.
Albion's players fell to the floor as referee Steve Lee immediately blew his whistle for full-time and for the fourth week running Nat Saumi's side had gone down by just a single score.
It was painful to watch the players' efforts go unrewarded again, in terms of a win, but they did pick up two more bonus points to edge them closer to safety.
The Blues, who had hammered Albion 55-17 at Goldington Road in October, went 14-0 up and it could have been more, but in the last six minutes of the first half, Albion got going and went in at the break just four points down thanks to a try by Rhodri McAtee and a conversion and penalty from Roberts.
McAtee, who had enjoyed a fine first half, had to go off at the break with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Paul Bailey and he had a stormer for Albion, who played some of their best rugby at Brickfields since September. Bailey caused Bedford all kinds of problems and he really got Albion's backs going in the second half.
Bedford, who have now won by just one score in three of their last four visits to Brickfields, took the lead on Saturday after less than three minutes. From a penalty, the visitors went for the corner and from the line-out they drove over with hooker Neil Cochrane touching down. Former Albion full-back James Pritchard added the conversion.
They should have scored a second try six minutes later when the impressive Mark Atkinson cut through Albion's defence before putting James Stephenson away down the right. Stephenson was just five metres from the try line when he attempted to offload only for his pass to hit an Albion player and go into touch.
Bedford pressed from the line-out and Luke Baldwin thought he had scored, but the referee ruled he was held up and only awarded the five-metre scrum to the visitors.
Bedford got a penalty in front of the posts at the set piece but opted for another five-metre scrum and wasted it. The visitors looked like they had scored again on 29 minutes from another catch-and-drive move, but the referee was unsighted and only awarded them a five-metre scrum.
But the Blues pressed from the set piece and went inside and Stephenson scored near the posts, although Albion felt he had done so with a double movement. The referee stood by his decision and Pritchard converted to make it 14-0.
But Bedford got sloppy and in the 34th minute McAtee got Albion back into the game when he scored from close range after the home side had turned the Blues over in their own 22 from the restart.
The visitors had problems with their restarts all afternoon and three of Albion's tries came from them not gathering and dealing with the kicks properly.
With the last move of the half Roberts kicked a penalty after some good pressure to leave Albion four points adrift.
The second half belonged to Albion and they took the lead for the first time four minutes after the interval when Harrison Tovey crossed in the right corner after a poor kick by Bedford's Jake Sharp was run back by Rupeni Nasiga and Bailey. Roberts narrowly failed with the conversion but Albion were 15-14 up.
Yet their lead lasted just three minutes as the Devon side lost a line-out and Atkinson broke straight through the middle of the home team's defence before putting Josh Bassett into score, which Pritchard converted.
Bedford, though, messed up at the restart and Albion got a scrum. The home side pressed and Bevon Armitage made a great break before putting Ruairi Cushion in to score under the posts for a simple conversion for Roberts.
That made it 22-21 and Albion had chance to increase that advantage. They got three penalties but on each occasion went for touch only to lose the line-outs.
With just one minute of normal time to go, Bedford turned Albion over and scored a fourth try through replacement Darryl Veenedaal after another good break by Atkinson. Pritchard crucially converted to make it 28-21.
Albion were awarded a penalty two minutes into injury-time and went for a five-metre line-out only to lose it.
But Bedford failed to clear the ball and Albion turned them over. They got another penalty in front of the posts, tapped it and pressed. Eventually they went left and Carpenter was awarded a try, although Bedford claimed he had been held just short.
It gave Roberts the chance to be the match-winner, but, the tough angle proved too much.