THE game may have ended in defeat but Bolton head coach Dave Crouch was feeling positive about his side’s winning mentality.

The Cherry and Whites were hit by injuries to key personnel as they were defeated 28-22 at Wigton in the North Lancs/Cumbria division.

Chris Cockton suffered a head injury early in the match and vice-captain Louis Critchlow also left the field injured in the second half, minutes after returning to the field from the sin-bin.

“I’m really pleased with the way we played and how we stuck at it,” said Crouch.

“We performed well, we showed great teamwork and the effort was there from everyone and, against a very big Wigton side, tackled really well – their fly-half was running in circles desperately trying to avoid our man and find a pass.

“We scored some good tries and we were close to a winner. It was a game we should have won – we didn’t, but the attitude and desire was good.”

Cockton’s replacement in the front row, Rory Biggins, made his first XV debut and scored the visitors’ first try five minutes before half time to halve Wigton’s 10-0 lead, although the hosts’ converted try just before the break made Bolton’s uphill task that bit steeper.

Another debutant, half-time replacement Ben Cottam, won a penalty soon after the restart, which Joe Speakman kicked.

The full-back’s boot was needed again soon after, when Kieran Shacklock scored the try of the match.

Andrew Wood started the move in the Cherry and Whites’ own 22 and Shacklock evaded three covering defenders to race more than 50 metres to touch down. It got even better for Bolton when captain Rhys Pritchard sneaked in for try number three. Speakman’s conversions meant they led 22-17.

However, two penalties edged Wigton 23-22 ahead before Critchlow incurred the wrath of the referee, who selected him for a spell in the sin-bin following a team yellow card.

On his return, the second-row forward was forced off again, this time by injury, and an unconverted try for Wigton set the seal on their win.

Crouch’s men are back on home turf for their final two games of the year but will be without Cockton, since modern-day concussion protocols require him to sit out two to three matches following a blow.

And in those matches against Tarleton and Aspatria, the coach will put his faith in young players who are still finding their feet in the game, and says many of these ‘rough diamonds’ can look forward to a good future.

“We are in something of a transitional period,” said Crouch. “We’ve picked up another couple of prospects who will join us for training this week, as well as having Rory and Ben playing in the first team. Rory just doesn’t have the weight of Chris, there’s probably a weight difference of three or four stone, but he played very well at Wigton.

“We lost three big, beefy lads from last season and we’ve got some good, young players – the likes of Ryan McClusky, Joe Speakman, Josh Holmes and Kieran Shacklock aren’t 20 yet.

“Young players often make the wrong decisions in games but their attitude is terrific, they just want to go out and play, and they’re getting better and better. The attitude in games and in training is great. We’re not the biggest team in the division so we need to be smarter in our play.”