With the weekend’s Saints Challenge Cup clash at Salford not taking place, instead Mike Critchley steers us through a classic encounter at The Willows 15 years ago


JAMIE Lyon single-handedly snatched victory from the jaws of the defeat to save Saints from a first loss under new coach Daniel Anderson.

The 23-year-old Aussie Test centre walked away with the man of the match award for the second week in succession with a stunning hat-trick, which included two spectacular solo efforts.

And when he was not scoring tries and spinning out some outrageous passes, 80 minute player Lyon was putting in some massive tackles to rock the Reds ball carriers.

Lyon, who is a quarter way through a two-year deal at Knowsley Road, was described as the club's biggest signing since Mal Meninga when he first penned his name on the dotted line.

It was a big expectation to live up to and although no medals have been handed out yet, many fans are already declaring that Lyon is better than the legendary former Kangaroo skipper.

Although it would be unfair to describe Friday's victory as a one-man show, Saints would not have won it without Lyon.

After strolling to victories over top-four sides Leeds and Bradford, there appeared to be a distinct lack of adrenalin pumping for this clash with the basement battlers who are fighting for their Super League survival after losing their previous six matches.

It was definitely a case of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' for Saints, and the well-drilled Salford side sensed that the visitors, missing top try scorer Darren Albert, skipper Paul Sculthorpe and prop Nick Fozzard, were ripe for taking.

Salford, too, were missing several first team regulars but opportunity knocked for rookie stand off Tim Hartley, who scored two tries and created a third in magnificent display.

The Reds dominated the opening proceedings, with the clever kicks of former Wigan scrum half Luke Robinson and skipper Malcolm Alker forcing a succession of drop outs.

Robinson, who has a fine record against Saints, carved out the opening for the first try with his reverse pass sending Hartley in for the touchdown. Chris Charles added the conversion and with the Reds pack in commanding form, with South African prop Sean Rutgerson to the fore, they kept that lead until the 16th minute.

Predictably it was Lyon who grabbed the try, taking the ball in a tight corner before dummying to the wing, shaking his hips to swerve through leaving three hapless Reds defenders in his wake.

That should have sparked Saints into life, but it was Salford who were next on the scoresheet following a once in a blue moon occurrence - a Paul Wellens mistake.

The Great Britain full back appeared to have caught Robinson's awkward low kick like a goalkeeper, but then the ball rolled out of his grasp for centre Stuart Littler to nip in for a try.

The topsy-turvy nature of the game carried on when Sean Long attacked the line before dropping off a smart inside ball to determined second row Jon Wilkin, who threaded his way through to score close to the posts.

Only a wonder tackle by Alker stopped Ade Gardner putting Saints ahead for the first time on 32 minutes.

The Saints wing appeared to be flying in at the corner, only for the Reds' inspirational skipper to snuff him out five metres short of the line with a copybook man and ball tackle.

Saints were beginning to get on top, but when heavyweight prop Paul Anderson broke the line and stormed 20 metres upfield there was nobody on his shoulder and another chance went begging.

That was compounded by another handling error, which Salford accepted with glee. Just before the interval they punished Saints when Hartley skipped past Wilkin's attempted tackle to cross for a converted score that made it 18-12 at the break. (That should have given Saints a wake up call, but when Hartley off-loaded to Charles nine minutes after the restart, that call appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

Saints, trailing 22-12 looked set to repeat the disappointing defeat of last season's previous visit to the Willows.

But just approaching the final quarter Lyon touched down to start Saints' rally. It was a typical Saints try with Long's lofted kick being fumbled by a previously faultless David Hodgson.

Quick thinking from young James Roby spotted openings on the flank and he whipped out a long ball to the right to Ian Hardman, who popped it on a plate for Lyon.

Lyon did not have long to wait, but had further to travel for his hat-trick try. Taking the pass from the base of the scrum, Lyon effortlessly shook off his marker to streak 60 metres for a solo score, with Long's conversion levelling matters.

Saints' tails were up and went in front for the first time when Long's clever kick rebounded of the base of the posts to allow Wellens to nip in for the crucial try.

A Long conversion and drop goal gave Saints a two-score cushion and they added to that with a four pointer just before the end to give the scoreline a flattering look.

To play below par and still come away with two points is always a sign of a good side.

But Saints will also be thankful for being brought down to earth and having weaknesses exposed in this manner, rather than in ten days time in the sudden death arena.

Salford: Hodgson; Stewart, Littler, Beverley, Lanhi; Hartley, Robinson; Rutgerson, Alker, Baldwin, McAvoy, Shipway, Charles. Subs: Haggerty, Jonkers, Clough, Stringer.

Saints: Wellens; Hardman, Lyon, Talau, Gardner; Hooper, Long; P. Anderson, Cunningham, Mason, Gilmour, Wilkin, V. Anderson. Subs: Edmondson, Roby, Graham, Fa'asavalu.

Ref: Ian Smith.