A MUCH-IMPROVED Havant came within a whisker of upsetting table-toppers Sidcup as they battled to an agonising 20-19 London one south loss in Kent.
Will Knight’s out-of-form side had been written off by many going into the clash, following a run of three consecutive losses and a frustrating 32-18 home reversal by Brighton last time out.
But the league’s basement club threatened to turn the early-season standings on their head as a retreating Sidcup were forced to hold out in a nervy finale at Crescent Farm.
The hosts, who remain the only team in the division with a perfect winning record from their opening four matches, had looked set for a routine victory when they led Knight’s men 20-7 inside the final 10 minutes.
But a spirited fightback from the visitors ensured an absorbing game of rugby went down to the wire.
Knight said: ‘It was very close.
‘They are top of the league and we are down at the bottom so we expected it to be a very challenging game for us – and it was.
‘They are a decent side who have beaten everyone else they have played.
‘But our players gave 110-per-cent and we’re pleased with the performance, though not especially the outcome as we could and possibly should have won the game.
‘It was a massive step up and showed our squad that they can compete with the best in the league.’
Sidcup were first to register when Jamie Cutler kicked the hosts ahead on 20 minutes.
Steve Evans then profited from a rolling maul to score between the posts, before Cutler converted to open up a 10-point advantage for the hosts.
Havant hit back on the stroke of half-time though, as Jed Smith crossed the whitewash from a driven line-out, with Joel Knight duly kicking the conversion to make the scores 10-7 at the interval.
The impressive Cutler then kicked another penalty for the hosts to open up a six-point gap after the interval, before Ashton Dean breached the visitors’ defence for a converted try to hand Sidcup what appeared to be an unassailable lead.
But at 20-7 down, Havant showed character and spirit in abundance to make a game of it against the league leaders.
Ryan Ray reduced the arrears, crossing over out wide for an unconverted score with less than 10 minutes on the clock to close the gap to eight points.
Knight then converted his own try late in the game as an incredible comeback appeared to be on the cards.
But with a rampant Havant bidding to create one more scoring opportunity, Sidcup showed the experience that has taken them to the summit to close the game out well under pressure.
Coach Knight – who was left wondering what might have been had the game not gone to unopposed scrums with the hosts unable to field a front-row replacement following a yellow card to one of their props – praised the manner of his players’ performance.
He added: ‘There was a huge level of aggression from our players – we were very competitive.
‘Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a huge amount of work to be done but what was nice was that we came away being that close to the runaway leaders of the division at the moment.
‘We will now go back to the training ground tomorrow and Thursday and work on some things from the game but I’m proud of the players, who collectively stood up to the task.’