If Cinderford looked anything but a side that has spent most of the season battling against relegation, then Park didn’t look much like title contenders either with a disappointing display that ended in a 22-12 defeat - their third loss in a row.
The home side had to weather 16 minutes of concerted Park pressure straight from kick off.
Two penalties were hammered into the home 22; breaks up either wing were halted for handling errors; the much vaunted Cinderford scrum was driven off their own ball in their 22; there was a forward surge towards the line.
But the home defence was excellent, and perhaps it was also a case of too much icing and not enough cake, but whatever reason, Park’s considerable exertions failed to yield any points.
The first time Cinderford secured any reasonable possession, a hoof up the left was followed by a maul which bundled hooker Sam Wilkes over the line for a five-point lead, completely against the run of play on 17 minutes. Suddenly, rugby seemed a simple game.
Seven minutes later Cinderford’s direct style again brought dividends, a good run up the right and a pass inside allowed flanker Will Foden to run in close to the posts, converted by Dan Trigg for 12-0 on 24 minutes.
Cinderford were by now competing on more than even terms. They gained a penalty in the Park 22 and opted to scrummage, but the defence held firm until relieved when the home side were pinged for obstruction.
Park countered but had difficulty in breaching the ‘red zone’ until a super attack through the middle saw skipper Mark Lock lead by example and crash through by the posts giving Ross Laidlaw a simple conversion for 12-7 to bring Park right back into contention four minutes before the interval.
However, with the half-time whistle beckoning, slack defending allowed home winger Stapleton to pick up the ball, run past two tackles on the Park left and run round close to the posts, Trigg converting, to make the score at the interval 19-7.
Park made the best possible start to the second half with a superb try almost from kick off. A devastating burst up the right by Steve Parsons found Dom Shabbo in perfect support to finish off the move in the corner to put Park back in it at 19-12. The angle for the conversion attempt defeated even Laidlaw.
Cinderford came back, gaining a penalty on the edge of the Park 22, which they kicked to touch. From the resulting line out Park lock Stan McKeen was sent to the sin bin on the intervention of the touch judge and Park were left in desperate defence and a man short.
When eventually Park were caught offside, Trigg took the three points for 22-12, leaving Park needing more than one try to turn the game around.
The visitors had sufficient attacking possession to have accomplished that several times over, but move after move was spoilt by uncharacteristic handling errors.
On gaining a penalty, Laidlaw was asked to attempt one at the very limit of his range in the conditions, while most touchline support was begging for it to be hammered to the corner to go for the try. It narrowly missed. Park themselves conceded a penalty around half way which Cinderford missed.
Park switched to all-out attack but again knocked on when approaching the line. They quite brilliantly turned over possession in the home 22, but again spoilt it by mis-handling and when they conceded another penalty the game was up.
During their run of victories, Park showed an invincible ‘togetherness’ that refused to accept defeat.
By comparison this performance – hard as they tried – looked a tad dispirited. With no match next weekend the coaches have a couple of weeks to re-kindle that spirit before Macclesfield – level on points with Park – come visiting.
Park: Edwards; Parsons, Shabbo, Gower, Rudd (Mantella); Laidlaw; Baxter (Barr); Ovens, Richmond (Gotting), Huggett (Ward); Lloyd-Jones, McKeen; Trayfoot, Rowland, Lock (Campbell).
Park scorers: Lock (T), Shabbo (T), Laidlaw (C.