Final day victory is fitting finale for head coach Albinson
Stamford missed out on promotion by the narrowest of margins on the final day of the Midlands 3 East (South) season on Saturday.
They ran out 36-19 winners at Birstall in head coach Matt Albinson's final league game at the helm, but results elsewhere confirmed a third place finish for Town.
They needed league leaders Northampton Casuals to beat Leicester Forest in their table-topping tussle to snatch second spot.
But unfortunately it was not to be as Forest clinched the title with a 53-21 success as Casuals claimed second spot ahead of Stamford by virtue of winning one more game (19 to Town's 18) after both sides had finished level on points.
Stamford had gone into the clash wanting to give Albinson a fitting finale for all of his years of service at the club as promotion would have been a just reward for the work and effort put in by the team.
The match was not a classic and it was only a few minutes old when a good Birstall attack was stopped on the line by what the referee decided was an illegal tackle and he awarded a penalty try.
The home side were never going to make this easy for Stamford as they were desperate for points to avoid relegation themselves.
Stamford responded in the best way though and the ball was collected from the kick-off by Tom Wire who made good ground before supplying James O’Shea with a pass that he took at pace and blasted through the home defence to score under the posts. Oli Johnson added the conversion.
Both teams were fighting for possession to further their own causes but, as it has been all season, Stamford's defence was well organised and they stopped Birstall on numerous occasions.
From one turnover Town released Jack Jones who fed on to George Nairn and James Green to go deep into the home 22 and, from a quick ruck, Dan Heard was on hand to score with Johnson again adding the extras to take the score to 7-14.
Birstall came straight back onto the attack and, when Stamford knocked on, they used the resulting scrum to run in a converted try of their own to prove this was not going to be all one-way.
Although there were a few handling errors Stamford still looked the more complete side, driving the opposition back in the scrums and using the ball well in open play.
They were awarded a line out in the home 22 and it was Jones again who collected the throw and drove himself through the defence to score.
The momentum was maintained from the kick-off by Heard who raced up the pitch before passing to Oli Winspear who went over with ease to score the fourth and bonus point try to make it 14-24 at half-time.
The second half was a dogfight with both teams giving their all but handling errors and good tackling prevented any scoring.
Stamford were trying to get their running and supporting game together but at times it wasn’t clicking into place.
Birstall were still applying pressure when they could and, from an attacking ruck, Dan Heard was shown a yellow card for handling.
The referee was now not allowing much advantage, preferring to blow the whistle and stop rather than let anything develop but Stamford were still the dominant side.
This was shown when Sam Hillary scored from another line in his own typical style, proving unstoppable from five yards out, with Johnson again slotting the conversion.
The game continued in its competitive nature until in the closing stages the referee awarded the hosts another penalty try for an infringement at a ruck and bizarrely a yellow card to John Murphy for not letting Birstall have the ball when no conversion is necessary and it was a Stamford kick off.
From the restart the home team tried to run out of defence but lost the ball when it was intercepted by Winspear who ran in unopposed for a try. Johnson's conversion gave a final score of 19-36.
Despite missing out on promotion, Stamford have still had an exceptional season, winning 25 of their 30 games this term.
They have played open and attacking rugby which is all down to the players' attitude and the coaching and direction given by Albinson.
This squad has confidence and belief in themselves to take forward to next season when again promotion will be the priority.
They will now hope to sign off in style with victory in the Lincolnshire Cup final against hosts Lincoln on Monday, May 6.
More by this authorJames Bedford