Alton come up just short against Andover
This time around it was an equally entertaining, even encounter played in bitterly cold conditions at Anstey Park.
Alton just came up short but will take a little solace from gaining a losing bonus point for the fifth time this season.
Playing up the Anstey slope but with a stiff tailwind behind them, Alton started briskly.
A couple of early penalties forced the visitors back and after they were adjudged to have pulled down in the lineout, Cameron Hamer kicked a fine penalty to open the scoring after 12 minutes.
In their first meaningful attack, Harry Devonshire tackled well to force their left wing into touch, but unwisely the quick lineout immediately put Joe Gwyther under pressure and playing with a penalty advantage, Andover spread the ball wide to take the lead after 20 minutes.
Alton responded immediately. The kick off was knocked into touch by an Andover hand, the ever-dependable Ben Burrage collected well in the lineout, Hamer’s long pass eventually created an opening and Dan Androuliakos showed his strength to restore Alton’s advantage in the corner.
Hamer added the conversion with again another splendid kick from near the touchline to make it 10-5.
With Karter Whittock and Oli Fielder prominent in constantly challenging their far meatier opponents, Andover lacked any penetration.
But after kicking close to the Alton line, they used the lineout to good effect, pealing round the front to create an opening under the posts to score after 35 minutes.
Hamer again restored the lead after another penalty just before the break, as Alton had Luke Harriss sinbinned in midfield for repeated team offences on 40 minutes.
Early in the second half Andover kicked to within ten metres and with Alton expecting the familiar lineout move, the ball was collected instead at the front and they went over the line from close range.
Back to full strength, Alton were soon playing with a man advantage of their own, as Andover repeatedly offended and had a player sinbinned for seemingly a deliberate knock on.
Eventually the pressure told as Pantrey dummied and then nipped in around the side of a ruck to score a much-deserved try.
Andover soon started to regain some composure. Firstly, they scored again off the back of a maul from within five metres and then were gifted the match-clinching score. Alton looked to go wide on halfway, but as the tip pass was made, the sprightly Andover back row stole between the centres, intercepted and ran the ball in from 50 metres.
For ten minutes it seemed to suck the life out of the Alton team as they tried unsuccessfully to escape their own territory and Gwyther incurred the ref’s wrath for backchat and to his dismay was sinbinned for the final moments.
Undeterred, Alton went in search for a losing bonus point with Whittock at the centre of four or five attacks inside the red zone. Finally, with a penalty advantage and ‘free-ball’ on the last play of the game, Hamer kicked clinically across field wide right, Burrage collected and scored.
Even the most ardent Andover follower could not deny Alton probably deserved something from the game.
After three defeats in a row, Alton have an opportunity to bounce back today (Saturday) when they travel to play bottom-of-the-table Basingstoke – although Stoke will be buoyed after securing their first victory of the season against Portsmouth.
Report: Gary Brench
Photos: Mark Hankins
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