Manchester endured a torrid time at the away fixture and with Vale now firmly established at the top of the league, there was some uneasiness from the hosts’ supporters.
Life was made that little bit more difficult when a poor clearance kick had Manchester defending their line early on. The move was held up as Vale pressed but the resulting scrum saw the ball moved right for an easy try in the first few minutes (0-5).
Manchester responded well and stretched the Vale defence with slick passing, full back Seb Lingwood joining the line to create an overlap. The pass out looked good but a dropped ball in sight of the line let Vale off the hook. Worse was to come as the defensive scrum was won and a thin Manchester defence allowed the ball to be taken the length of the field to double the deficit to 0-10 inside quarter of an hour.
Again Manchester responded and again a ball was dropped when in a scoring position, so that Vale held on to their lead. That was finally reduced after 25 minutes when a sustained period of the forwards bashing away near the try line was rewarded when the pack forced the ball over, converted by Doug Day to 7-10.
A series of penalties gave the visitors some rare field position but it was Manchester who came closer to scoring when Anthony TiaTia burst through some defenders before flicking a pass to Harry Lewis who was lightning quick along his wing into the Vale 22. Vale’s attacking visits, although less frequent proved to be more fruitful, the half closing with a straightforward penalty to reach the break at 7-13.
Vale had a similar score at the start of the second half (7-16) but when another try opportunity went begging for Manchester, there was a real danger of heads going down. A lost lineout followed by three missed tackles resulted in a killer try under the posts so that a daunting 7-23 gap opened up with half an hour to play. In fact the visitors’ bonus point try soon followed as Manchester were wrongfooted from another lost lineout, the try in the corner making it 7-28.
With the game realistically lost at this point, Manchester responded on the hour mark when Vale were again unable to cope with Lewis’ pace on the wing, taking the game into the final quarter at 12-28 although it would seem that little was left to play for.
Vale’s lead was flattering but simply down to taking their chances rather than squandering them. Their final score came with fifteen minutes to play when a missed tackle during a period of pressure put the league leaders out of sight at 12-33.
Of course this cued Manchester’s best period of the match! A strong finish resulted first in a try for Matt Beasley when territory was gained by great handling and passing by the backs, then strength and determination by the forwards. Brian Ndlovu at 8 was a handful throughout the match and it was his offload as he drew the defenders in that allowed Beasley to make the score.
At 19-33 with ten minutes to go, an unlikely grandstand finish was reached, as a now dominant Manchester chased a bonus point try along with a losing bonus point that would likely go with it. It wasn’t to be however but at least the cobwebs from the extended break were blown away, and the ability to mix it with the top teams confirmed.