Yates’ verdict: A win without scaling great heights

Our sports writer John Yates delivers his verdict on Saints win over Widnes
Our sports writer John Yates delivers his verdict on Saints win over Widnes

Win without scaling any great heights, or in a swashbuckling style, all that matters at the end of the day is two points are in the bag.

Newly-appointed head coach Justin Holbrook insists Saints are still a work in progress and continues to look for improvements on a weekly basis but three wins from four games since his arrival from Australia seems to suggest they are heading in the right direction.

At times Friday’s 26-10 home victory over Widnes Vikings wasn’t pretty to watch, especially in the opening phase of the game in which both sides were guilty of making more mistakes than Prime Minister Theresa May in her General Election campaign.

The Chemics, who had won their previous back-to-back fixtures, looked the more positive outfit early on but Holbrook’s decision to withdraw props Alex Walmsley.

Kyle Amor and then loose forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, making his 300th career appearance, and bring on fellow forwards Luke Thompson, Luke Douglas and Morgan Knowles proved a turning point.

It provided Saints with extra impetus and by half-time they had opened a 10-point lead through a try and goal from in-form centre Mark Percival, who went on to reach the 500 points mark in a Saints’ shirt on the night, and a spectacular touchdown by jet-heeled winger Regan Grace in the left-hand corner

It was a similar scenario after the break when Widnes cut the deficit to 10-4 and threatened to turn the game on its head.

Holbrook then withdrew Douglas, Thompson and Knowles and brought on Walmsley, Amor and McCarthy-Scarsbrook, and again the switch worked a treat with the rejuvenated Walmsley crashing over almost immediately followed by centre Ryan Morgan and stand-off Theo Fagas.

Widnes sandwiched a try and goal in between Saints’ burst but the outcome was never in doubt as a hosts climbed to sixth spot in the table - and at the same time leapfrogged arch-rivals Wigan Warriors.

It was a performance which pleased Holbrook who said: “We were really tested in the first 25 minutes by putting pressure on ourselves but I felt we were really good for the majority of the game.

“Widnes are a dangerous attacking outfit but we managed to turn them away

“We then created a number of chances and when we did that I was also happy with our attack.”

The Saints’ boss, facing a pre-match selection problem by having a fully-fit squad to chose from, surprised one or two onlookers by omitting winger Adam Swift, scorer of six tries this season in 16 appearances

The head coach observed: “I said earlier in the week that whoever missed out it wouldn’t be through poor form. It would be through us being healthy.

“Adam took the decision well and that made it good for the team.’’

Holbrook added: “If we learn to play for 80 minutes, we will be a lot better. The fact we put ourselves under pressure and then came up and executed the way we did was good.

“I thought our bench were the pick for us. The starting guys held their own and then Luke Thompson, Morgan Knowles and Luke Douglas were really strong and allowed Jonny Lomax to come into play.

“I felt Matty Smith organised the team really well, too, while Regan Grace is getting a combination out there with Mark Percival – he got a couple of chances and turned them into points.

“But what was pleasing for myself and the players is the things we had worked on happened for us at times. We have a lot of improvement in us but it is really encouraging. We make errors but they are parts which can be easily fixed.

“If we can eradicate them from our game, we can then continue to improve for the rest of the year.”

Saints also had the luxury late on to introduce 20-year-old Danny Richardson for only his fourth senior appearance of the year, giving him valuable game experience at top level.