North Wales Crusaders A came agonisingly close to toppling joint leaders Garswood Stags on Saturday in a thrilling Division Four clash at Shotton Steel RFC.
The visitors, beaten only once in the league this season, went into an early 12-0 lead.
Although Reece Owens then crossed out wide for Crusaders, Garswood hit back with their third try on 25 minutes following quick cross-field passing from right to left.
At 18-4 down, it looked like it was going to be a tough afternoon for the home side, but they fought back well and, six minutes before the interval, Alfie Matthias broke clear down the left for a try.
For the rest of the half and a good 30 minutes of the second period, Crusaders were the better side, making ground well and maintaining possession.
After a prolonged period in attack, Crusaders finally broke through in the 57th minute with three tries in a ten-minute spell.
The Stags were clearly rattled and forced into errors, giving away penalties.
Geraint Jones scored the first followed by Dylan Rowe and Elliot Long. All were with powerful try-scoring runs.
Leading 26-18, Crusaders needed good game management and composure to hold out but, as in recent games, they failed to close out the crucial late stages.
Visiting scrum-half Rob Spurr burst over under the posts and, to make matters worse, Crusaders’ Billy Forrester was dismissed in the aftermath of the try.
Scenting victory, the visitors threw everything into attack and outstanding centre Adam Watson shook off several tackles around the halfway line, with his pace doing the rest to score the winning try.
But the drama wasn’t over with Crusaders camped on the Garswood line in a frantic final minute.
There were knock-ons by either side and, on the last play of the game, a home kick to the corner just rolled dead in-goal to the relief of the visitors and their coach Paul Loughlin, once a star of St Helens and Great Britain.
Steve Griffiths, returning strongly after a first half-injury, Luca Owen-Youens and Ryan Turner were outstanding for the home side, with Callum Leonard’s hard work always putting Garswood on the back foot.
Despite the defeat, Crusaders nevertheless should be proud of their efforts and, in the end with five tries apiece, the margin came down to kicks at goal and a lack of composure at the finish.
Tries: Owens, Matthias, Jones, Rowe, Long
Goals: Turner (3)