On a gloomy December afternoon in the last home fixture before the seasonal festivities, Market Rasen and Louth were determined to make amends for last week’s dismal display at Ashby.
But in a game dominated by defences, the red and greens managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The two teams emerged from the dressing rooms into a dank Willingham Road arena lashed by torrential rain, in semi-darkness that ensured this would be a struggle against the elements as well as each other.
Rasen made some early forays, but it was Dronfield who took control of possession for the first quarter to consign Rasen to defensive duties, which they carried out with great efficiency to deny the visitors any hint of a score.
Flanker Connor Janney played with a maturity beyond his years and worked tirelessly to relentlessly chop down attackers like a lumberjack working his way through a forest, ably assisted by some hard work from lock Adam Roberts, who was having his best game in a first team jersey to date.
Rasen lifted the siege and turned the tables to push Dronfield into defensive mode.
A burst from Matt Ashton broke through the first line of defence and then some fancy footwork, more akin to a centre than a prop, took him past more defenders.
With the line coming into view, Dronfield’s scrambling defence put a brake on the attack, but there was still enough support to carry it on until a knock on saved the visitors. A break from industrious scrumhalf Ed Nicholls also caused consternation in the Dronfield ranks, but again the move broke down and the two sides remained locked scoreless as the half-time whistle sounded.
It was clear that an opening score would have a critical effect on this game, but who would make that initial break through was difficult to call.
The second period began much as the first half with Dronfield exerting the early pressure in the eerie subterranean-like gloom, but at least the rain had subsided.
A sixth minute penalty miss from Dronfield’s Joe Farrell turned into a comedy of errors when the fullback’s kick fell short of the target for Rasen to knock on.
Then Dronfield conceded a penalty from their advantageous position to give their hosts an easy get out.
After ending another Dronfield siege Rasen went on the attack when the Everton brothers combined for Peter to catch younger sibling Chris’s perfectly-weighted chip over the defence, but the move fizzled out and the game entered the final quarter with the scoreboard unmoved, providing a bright 0-0 beacon in the murkiness.
With 17 minutes remaining, Will Pridgeon launched a speculative kick deep into the Dronfield twenty-two, leaving portions of the crowd aghast at the winger’s apparent flagrant disregard for the sanctity of possession.
Little did they know that the Dronfield defence, previously rock solid under the high ball, would make such a hash of clearing the danger.
Peter Everton had followed up alongside Pridgeon and charged down Dronfield’s attempted clearance kick, leaving his teammate to pick up the pieces and dive on the ball for the opening score.
Tom Alldridge put the icing on the cake with a superbly struck conversion from wide out to make maximum capital out of Dronfield’s error.
Rasen now had to draw on their resolve to keep Dronfield at bay, but a knock on deep in red and green territory gave Dronfield the opportunity that they needed.
After winning the resultant scrum and playing a couple of phases, Dronfield switched the ball to the blind side and a long pass found Reika Mahmid, who had looked dangerous all game, for the winger to scoot in at the corner.
The conversion was missed to leave Rasen clinging to a slender two-point lead and 11 minutes to negotiate.
Inspired by their score, Dronfield threw everything at their hosts and Rasen were up to the challenge with some dogged defending.
But eventually Dronfield appeared to have worked an overlap until Ashton stepped into the line with an attempted interception.
Offside or deliberate knock on, it made no difference as the referee awarded the penalty and binned Ashton into the bargain.
With the last kick of the game Farrell sent the ball sailing through the uprights to put Dronfield into raptures with a one-point victory and Rasen left to rue their missed opportunities.
Rasen definitely upped their game from last week, but put pressure on themselves through a myriad of unforced errors that gave the initiative back to Dronfield.
Rasen had been dominant in the second quarter, but had been unable to capitalise on this to convert it into points.
The conditions played their part, but worryingly Rasen seem incapable of following the coaches’s game plan for a second week in a row and, once again, it has cost them dear.
Two defeats in two weeks is hard to take, but miraculously Rasen still remain second although there are now only five points separating second and eighth in the league table.
RASEN: Ashton, Alldridge, Southwell, Crowe, Roberts, F. Norton, Janney, Pryer, Nicholls, C. Everton, W. Stephens, McLoughlin, Goodwin, Pridgeon, P. Everton; Subs: Howard (Southwell), Lawton (F. Norton), Stirling (W. Stephens).
On Saturday Rasen complete the first round of league matches with a trip to Ilkeston, kick off 2.15pm.