After a month’s absence from their home venue at the Salford Stadium, the Red Devils returned from their travels, on Sunday last, to entertain the Wigan Warriors, in what turned out to be, since their move there, a record attendance of spectators, for this Round 16 encounter.
It must have felt like an extremely bold step for the Directors to target, publicly, the breaking of the previously existing record, but by so doing it pioneered the way for the newly publicly owned club to draw on its resources of bodies around the town to rally round and help drive up the numbers to ensure a successful outcome in this respect.
It was not only the attendance, however, which marked the occasion, as a whole-day event had been planned to celebrate both the first home fixture under the new ownership and also Armed Forces Day, which culminated with a triple shot from a cannon at the northwest corner of the ground, thereby rousing the assembled multitude to greater excitement than ever.
And so, even before a ball had been kicked, the day had proved to be a considerable success and significant occasion for all those present, for which every single person involved in its inception and organisation deserves the utmost praise and gratitude.
For a game against such a side as the mighty Warriors and on such a special occasion, however, the side would really have preferred not to have had two members of its spine missing through injury, as was the case with both Andy Ackers and Brodie Croft. Not that that reflects in any way upon their replacements, Amir Bourouh and the versatile Chris Atkin, who both slotted in smoothly at hooker and half back, respectively.
To then lose a third member of that crucial spine, in Ryan Brierley from the fullback role, on 35 mins, however, was a blow which really took its toll alongside the others, and it was probably as a result of the reorganization necessitated by this that led to the visitors snatching a half time lead from the grasp of the reshuffled Salford side, three minutes from the interval.
Every minute of that first half, though, had been keenly contested, set-for-set, throughout the full forty-minutes, with the Red Devils standing up magnificently to the Wiganers throughout the first quarter of the game, with solid defence and strong carries forward.
It was, therefore, as late as the 21st minute, before the Warriors opened the scoring with an unconverted try, after a sustained period of pressure brought about by repeat sets on the back of goal-line drop-outs and occasional Salford touches of the ball. It is testament to the Salford players that they were able to repel the attack for as long as they had done.
Despite having had some early pressure of their own, though, the Red Devils had not really had sufficient field position to ask many questions of the Wigan defence, but then produced their best attack of the half when fine interplay down the left between Joe Burgess, Brierley, and Tim Lafai, took them into their opponents twenty metre area.
An obliging penalty helped them remain a little bit longer down there, and after Ken Sio had gone close to scoring, the ever-improving Ben Helliwell put himself in a great position to receive Marc Sneyd’s slick pass and go over for their one try of the game, which, with Sneyd’s conversion, put them in front.
Having had the half-time break in which to restructure and regalvanise the side after the loss of Brierley, the Reds went straight into the attack, and good handling forced a most promising-looking overlap, on 43 mins, only for a rather wild pass into touch to scupper the opportunity, when simple one-to-on passing might well have turned the game in their favour.
As it was, a Salford handling error, three minutes later saw Wigan draw further ahead with a try direct from the ensuing scrum, with two more scores coming at ten to twelve minute intervals, to stretch the score beyond the hopes of the Red Devils.
They nevertheless still continued to take the game to Wigan in the last ten minutes but so well-drilled is the Warriors’ defence that they were prepared to concede set-restarts, which would once have brought a penalty, right throughout the game, thus nullifying the Salford attack, until six minutes from the end, when another missed opportunity, this time on the left, was lost with a poor final pass to Burgess, who would have had a walk in.
Looking back on the second half, unlike the visitors who were clinical in their finishing, it was the Reds’ failure to capitalise on those two scoring opportunities which gave the final score such a significant difference. Even had only one of them brought a try it would have put them into double figures, whilst scoring both and with conversions would have put them within a somewhat more creditable eight points.
Disappointing a result as it was, though, it could in no way detract from the impressive event the club had turned the day into being. It is an occasion when everyone could feel proud to have been involved with the club and to have been in attendance to savour and enjoy it.