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by John Butler

COVENTRY, courtesy of their 12th successive win of the season, continued their march at the top National League One with such an important victory over one of their closest rivals in the quest for higher honours.

Once fixtures for the season came out in the summer, Cov knew the five-week period leading up to Christmas would be challenging and probably very defining in terms of their hoped-for promotion push.

What was obviously not known at that time was that a nine-point cushion would be achieved by November.

As a result of this latest success, the margin became 11 points with phase one of the challenging period of fixtures safely negotiated.

In front of the second-biggest crowd of the season at Butts Park of 2,065,  Cov did not disappoint their faithful support. The respective packs of forwards, as expected, went at each other in uncompromising fashion, but it was the home pack who ultimately had a big say in the final outcome. Jack Preece, with his tireless work rate, had probably his best game in a blue and white jersey, with Nile Dacres, against his former club, and second row partner George Oram, back after his lay off, not far behind.

Not really a day for too much fast, open running, but at centre  Anthony Matoto, in his first game for the club off the wing, together with  Max Trimble on the wing proved to be the most dangerous of the backs. At scrum-half, Tom Kessell also proved again his real worth to the squad, confident and assured in all he achieved.

Overall though, it was another fine team win over third-placed Plymouth, who in honesty only really produced one style of  scoring weapon throughout, the work of their forwards close in.

It was to take Cov just two minutes 27 seconds to chalk up the first points for a lead they were destined never to lose.

Attacking the railway end, Cov immediately went into action, Matoto making a storming burst and after two further phases, Will Maisey slipped the pass to Trimble who stormed in on the left without a tackler getting anywhere near him. Maisey’s conversion attempt was well short and wide.

The fly-half though was soon to make amends. With Cov enjoying all the early territory Dacres, Kessell and Trimble again were all prominent before Albion infringed.

From just 21 metres out, Maisey slotted an easy penalty for 8-0 to the home side after just 17 minutes.

Just three minutes later, from their first real attack of any note Plymouth pulled back seven points. A penalty kick to the corner being followed by a catch-and-drive was just held, notably by the efforts of Preece, but the Albion forwards sensed this was their opportunity and hooker Rupert Freestone was driven over after a number of attempts had been held. The reliable boot of Dan Mugford converted well to leave the scores delicately poised at 8-7.

Four minutes later though, Coventry ran in their second try with Kessell again well to the fore. Cov’s number 9 initially made a lovely break, followed by a clean pass, and although Albion stemmed the first attack, pressure remained on with Kessell claiming his second try in consecutive matches, Maisey converting for a 15-7 lead.

Briefly Plymouth responded, before a knock on in Cov territory ruined the move. The Devon side though applied real pressure leading up to half time.

Several times splendid Cov defence kept the Albion forwards out before finally, after some eight minutes of relentless trying, Albion secured their second try after 39 minutes. Once again it was their forwards who put in the hard yards with finally flanker Sam Holmes crashing over. From a wide angle, Mugford again converting well to leave the two sides just one point apart at half time.

If the Butts Park crowd believed they were to be in for a nervous second half, those fears were soon quelled within twelve minutes of the second period getting underway.

Two converted tries were to open up a 29-14  lead and prove to be the only scores of the half.

Each came following fine work by the Coventry pack inside the Albion 22 and on both occasions hooker Scott Tolmie came up with the ball, taking him to a personal tally of ten tries for the season. Maisey converted both well to leave the Blue and Whites with something of a points cushion for the first time.

Both sides still had chances in the following minutes, although Plymouth, even with several penalties awarded in their favour, were destined to only come close once, again through the efforts of their forwards.

Cov too built a number of times, twice the home pack of forwards winning penalty awards as a result of some excellent scrummaging.

The final whistle blew, with Plymouth knowing that defeat left them with considerable work to do if they are to close the gap at the top of the division.

For Coventry, at the beginning of the challenging five weeks, another success to the delight of their support. Victory which also placed more pressure on the chasing sides at the top end of National One.

Coventry: tries: Tolmie 2 (43, 52), Trimble (2), Kessell (23); conversions Maisey 3 (25, 44, 52); penalty Maisey (17). Plymouth Albion: tries Freestone (19), Holmes (39); conversions Mugford 2 (20, 40).

Coventry: Stokes; Knox (Emery 71), Matoto, Fenner, Trimble; Maisey, Kessell; Litchfield (Titchard-jones h-t), Tolmie (Nilsen 59), Boulton (Litchfield 59), Dacres, Oram, Makaafi (Daynes 63), Preece, Narraway.

Plymouth Albion: Arnott; Crosscombe, Squire, Skinner, Raumakita (Shepherd 59); Mugford, Snow (Setter 60); Norton (Chapman 60), Freestone (Salter 75), Pullinger, Kelly (Collier 67), Lonsdale, Holmes, Mills, Grace.

Referee: Matt Turvey

Attendance: 2,065.