CHAIRMAN of senior rugby Steve Burgess insists Ledbury Rugby Club can still push for promotion - but they now have no margin for error.
Ledbury remain third in the table after suffering their biggest defeat of the season - 25-10 - against Old Wheatleyans who laid a bogey by triumphing at Ross Road.
The Herefordshire side must win their four remaining fixtures in Midlands Three West (South) – including away matches against second-placed Old Yardleians and table-topping Pinley.
Burgess said: “It’s still theoretically possible that we could finish in the top two.
“If we were to beat the top-two and also win our other two fixtures, we would be there of thereabouts in the promotion race. This is a very competitive league and no game is a foregone conclusion.”
Ledbury are eight points adrift of second-placed Old Yardleians, whom they face on March 22, but have played one more fixture than their rivals.
Burgess said: “This is our second season in this division and we started off the campaign confident that we could finish in a mid-table position.
“But as the season has gone on and we’ve improved and our results have got better and better and, promotion was on the cards.”
Ledbury led 10-0 after 25 minutes on a glorious afternoon against fourth-placed Old Wheatleyans and looked to be cruising in an error-strewn first half dominated by the referee’s whistle.
But the hosts trailed 12-10 at the break and failed to muster a point in the second period as Paul Williams was held up short and Gary Nicholson lost control of the ball as he was tackled diving for the line in the final play of the match.
Burgess said: “Our poor performance was out of the blue – it was one of those performances when there were many things that we didn’t do well.
! It might have been that everyone had an off day at the same time.
“We just didn’t click as a team.”
“That’s by far the biggest defeat we have had this season. We have lost by more points in this game than by the margin of our other three defeats put together. It was a very poor performance against a good side.”
Steven Humphreys dived over from close-range the first try of the match, after Jock Welch had gone close, and Dave Bromage, who had earlier slotted a penalty, kicked the conversion.
Visiting fly-half Clark McCallum had earlier missed a penalty, while Bromage was also been off target with a long-range effort for Ledbury.
But, from being in a position of strength, Ledbury were put under intense pressure in the last three minutes of the first half and found themselves 12-10 behind and down to 14 men at the interval.
Ronan Jones finished off forward pressure from the visitors for an unconverted try and then Jamie Rayfield was yellow-carded as the visitors pounded towards the line.
Superb Ledbury defence held up a driving maul but the hosts were penalised at the resulting scrum and James Rooke crashed over from a line-out move, with McCallum slotting the extras.
The visitors extended their lead in the 56th minute when winger Leo Craddock finished off a slick passing move between Ben Craig and the dangerous Richard Drury.
McCallum’s close-range penalty kicked the Coventry club 20-10 ahead before Drury raced from deep inside his own half to score an outstanding individual try with 11 minutes remaining.
Ledbury attacked in the last 10 minutes and the visitors’ Rooke was yellow-carded in the dying minutes but they could not break through.
Burgess said: “We conceded two very soft tries at the end of the first half which made a huge difference and changed the momentum of the game.
“We have to play considerably better next time and I think we’re more than capable of doing that.”
Old Wheatleyans skipper Ben Craig said: “Ledbury have always been our bogey side – we have always come unstuck against them and have never put together a decent performance against them. We are chuffed with this result. There was a lot of graft in defence and we made some big tackles.”