Widnes Vikings survived a late scare to pick up their third victory in a row, seeing off Bradford Bulls 25-20 at the Halton Stadium on Sunday.
It was the second consecutive home fixture that Widnes had played in front of over 5,000 supporters, and they were treated to a tense affair which the visitors thought they had won late on.
An obstruction in the build-up to a try two minutes from time halted the celebrations of the travelling supporters, and moved Kieron Purtill’s men to within two points of wiping out their 12-point deduction.
The Vikings Head Coach made just one change to the side which defeated Barrow last Sunday, with Chris Dean returning from injury in place of Owen Buckley.
It took six minutes for the hosts to open the scoring, as Harrison Hansen had the ball stolen from him in the tackle to present Widnes with a repeat set 30 metres from the try line. Three tackles into that set, Danny Craven dummied from close range and managed to reach out and score, with Jack Owens adding the extras.
A further six minutes passed before the second try of the game, as Craven broke through the defensive line and found Owens in support on the inside, with the fullback kicking over the top for Keanan Brand to race in and finish an outstanding try. Owens added the two points from the tee to make it 12-0.
Bradford then enjoyed a period of pressure, as they found touch with the kick-off and forced a further goal-line drop-out soon after, with Craven trapped by a clever kick. From that set of six, the Bulls put the ball through hands and sent David Foggin-Johnston over, with Elliot Minchella adding the conversion to halve the deficit.
With 25 minutes of the game gone the scores were level, as a deft pass at the line from Minchella sent Connor Farrell over untouched in front of the travelling supporters for a converted effort.
A hectic couple of minutes followed, as Owens’ pass was intercepted by Ethan Ryan only for Foggin-Johnston to cough up possession. The Vikings took advantage of their positive field position as Jordan Johnstone jumped from dummy half, showing enough strength to find his way over the try line.
With a minute left on the clock, the Bulls won a penalty 40 minutes from the try line and opted to take the shot at goal, with Minchella cutting the Vikings’ lead to four points.
That was the final scoring act of the first period, as Widnes took an 18-14 advantage into the sheds at the break.
In the opening exchanges of the second half, both sides struggled to find any try scoring opportunities which led to Owens adding a penalty goal from 10 metres out on 54 minutes.
Widnes had their first real chance soon after, as Craven managed to craft a break for Owens down the left edge, and instead of using the support he was dragged down a yard short of the line.
On the hour mark, a Bradford knock on deep inside their own half piled on the pressure, leading to Craven slotting a field-goal to make it 21-14 to the hosts.
Tempers began to flare, as the players came together twice in quick succession before the Vikings were placed on a team warning, with a penalty forcing them to defend their line. The Bulls threw all they could at the hosts, only for some heroic defending to halt Steven Crossley inches from the line on the last tackle.
That work was almost undone by a poor offload from Sam Wilde inside his own 30 metre line, which found a Bradford man instead of a teammate. Another great defensive set kept the visitors at bay though, as Anthony Gelling managed to take Minchella’s kick on the last under pressure.
With six minutes left of the contest, back-to-back penalties led to a Vikings score as Craven switched play from left to right before Walker managed to find an offload in the tackle, ending with Ryan Ince diving over in the corner. Owens was off target with the conversion attempt, making it 25-14.
Bradford went short with their kick-off with Dean unfortunate to be caught offside from a ricochet, leading to James Green barging his way over from dummy half to set up a tense finish. Minchella’s conversion cut the deficit to just five points.
Then came the drama, as the Bulls managed to work their way into the Vikings half and race in for what would have been the winning try, however an obstruction in the build-up saw the effort chalked off.
Widnes saw out the remaining minutes to pick up a third straight win and move to minus two points, as they aim to claw their way back up the table.