Garstang made the worst possible start to 2014 with a defeat which was infuriating and frustrating but ultimately built on their own shortcomings.
A last gasp try looked to have sealed a dramatic victory for Garstang but an even later score for Hutton gave them an unlikely and, dare I say it, controversial victory.
Garstang got the best possible start to the game when they scored a try in the opening five minutes. A penalty was kicked to the corner, the line out was won and then the drive forward was controlled which enabled O’Brien to push over and score the try. It was a play which Garstang have yielded several tries from this season and was perfectly executed (0-5).
Garstang had the upper hand but their play was littered with errors and this gave Hutton plenty of broken play running opportunities. However, the Hutton equalising try came when Garstang were in an ascendant position.
They had a scrum in midfield in a position which should have been an attacking platform. Unfortunately, Garstang lost the scrum and were then half asleep as the Hutton number eight picked up and raced in from 30m to level the scores (5-5).
The stop-start nature of the game meant chances were few and far between and when Garstang got a penalty on the half hour mark they took the three points to regain the lead (5-8). Immediately after, Garstang put in a thrilling end-to-end break and a try looked a certainty, but the ball was spilled with the line begging.
Early in the second period Garstang extended their lead when a line out was turned over. The Hutton player knocked the ball back from the line out but none of their players reacted, Gavin Barton snatched the ball and streaked through an unguarded defence to race in from 20m (5-13).
At this point Garstang should have been looking to consolidate and extend their lead but they let their levels drop totally and played some of their worst rugby of the season with too many errors and very little structure.
This allowed Hutton a foothold in the game and they took advantage with a well worked try in the corner. The conversion was superb and all of a sudden Hutton were within one point of Garstang (12-13).
Things went from bad to worse shortly after when the Garstang defence was again breached and the Hutton number eight scored his second of the afternoon to send Hutton into a 19-12 lead.
Garstang upped their intensity but they could not get the vital breakthrough with the ball going to ground too many times at crucial moments. However, with time just about up it looked like Garstang had done enough to seal the win.
Kelsall took the ball at pace, rounded the last man and dived over under the posts. McLennan held his nerve to add the extras and Garstang looked to have nicked a dramatic 20-19 win.
The referee stated there was still 90 seconds to play so Garstang knew that they still had a little bit of work to do to see the game out. What happened next though was like something out of a bad dream! Garstang did not secure the restart cleanly but they managed to get the ball back and forced Hutton to give away a penalty. McLennan was going to kick the ball to touch but he dithered over which side he was going to kick it from. Incredibly the referee deemed that he was time wasting and gave Hutton a penalty which was easily kickable. Their kicker calmly slotted it to seal the win for the home side (22-20).
It was a cruel way for Garstang to lose the game and, while they were ultimately the architects of their own downfall, it has to be said the referee chose to impose a very harsh sanction on what was ultimately a moment of indecision.
Team: Whitaker, Barton, Miller, O’Brien, Haley, Tissing, Kelsall (Capt), Billington, Nickson, Dawson, Rogerson, McLennan, Pye, Knowles, Rawlinson. Replacements: Ford, Quinn, Constant
Coach Barton must now lift his players for another big game at Ashton-under-Lyne. The Blues have no game scheduled at the moment but are looking to rearrange the league game against Bolton 3rds which was postponed on Saturday. The Viagrans are also back in action and they are away against Ormskirk 4ths.