MALVERN suffered further late heart-break at Spring Lane as Stoke on Trent scored two tries in the last six minutes to snatch a dramatic 27-23 victory on Saturday.
The defeat will be a tough pill for the Worcestershire outfit to swallow as they looked to be coasting to a impressive home win thanks to tries from Ben Essenhigh and Richard Fleming.
But Malvern, who have made a habit of failing to convert winning position, could not hold on to their 23-13 advantage as Robert Spruce went over before William Sant touched down with two minutes remaining to complete a thrilling comeback.
The hosts’ chances of beating a Stoke side, who stunned runaway leaders Lichfield last week, suffered a blow even before kick off as Jamie Anderson pulled up in the pre-match warm-up with an ankle issue.
However, Malvern refused to let a last minute back row reshuffle affect them as they opened the scoring just five minutes in. Jon Bywater collected Ryan Watkins kick before offloading to Essenhigh to finish, which Tom Longley converted.
Stoke quickly responded with a penalty from Andrew Marsh, but it was Nick Tisdale’s side who looked the stronger in the early stages as Fleming put over a drop goal to restore a seven point lead.
The visitors were soon back on level terms, though, as Marsh converted hooker Sam Yorke’s 24th minute try.
This signalled a spell of pressure from Stoke, but Malvern were equal to it as the match looked like it was going to be locked at 10-10 at the break.
But when the away side lost Sant to a yellow card, Malvern took full advantage as they piled forward before Fleming burst over, which Longley converted.
The fly half then dispatched a penalty eight minutes after the interval to give the hosts a 20-10. Marsh cut back the deficit, but a drop goal from Longley gave Malvern a ten point cushion with 20 minutes left.
And the hosts, who went down to 14 men when Fleming was sin-binned, looked to be holding firm as they soaked up plenty of pressure.
But with six minutes left on the clock the match took a controversial twist. Spruce scampered over the whitewash despite receiving what appeared to be a forward pass which angered the hosts. Marsh then added the extras to close the gap to 23-20.
The moment proved to be a significant turning point in the contest as Stoke followed it up with another try, with Sant easing over to score what proved to be the match-winning try.