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Super League Friday - Review
St Helens continued their good run of form with a 32-18 defeat of Widnes Vikings at Knowsley Road on Friday night. They had not conceded tries in defeating Halifax and Bradford in the past fortnight, and continued their impressive defensive work to set the platform for this victory.
The reigning champions were also excellent in attack, taking a 24-0 interval lead and punishing Widnes for weak defence before holding off a comeback to take the win.
The Vikings had started well, and forced Ade Gardner to tap a Dean Lawford grubber dead before keeping out the visitors and then taking a seventh minute lead.
Keiron Cunningham's cut-out pass allowed Paul Wellens to send Jason Hooper surging between Lawford and Adam Hughes to the line, Sean Long converting.
Hughes, Shane Millard and Jules O'Neill went close at the other end, but a penalty released the pressure and allowed Saints the platform for a second score.
They kept the ball alive, with Long finding Cunningham before the hooker's long pass allowed Darren Smith to race around Julian O'Neill and past Paul Devlin to the corner.
Widnes kept up some pressure, Wellens twice conceding drop outs, but sloppy handling errors cost them, while Mike Bennett fumbled a Wellens pass at the other end.
Mick Higham was denied a try on the half-hour when he was adjudged accidentally offside when Daniel Frame's knock on came off Martin Gleeson, but they did extend the lead two minutes later.
Long - who had missed The Origin Game with a wrist problem but recovered sufficiently to play in this game - and Gleeson worked well on the blind side to allow Gardner to cross in the corner, Long adding a second touchline goal.
And a fourth score followed swiftly afterwards, with Cunningham darting to the blind side before his miss-pass allowed Gleeson to touch down, Long again goaling from wide out.
Widnes did start the second half well, with Lawford making a break before Devlin was cut down and Wellens stopping Shane Millard on the last.
And they got themselves back into the game on 52 minutes, when Robert Relf and Steve McCurrie sending Jason Demetriou away before the centre's looped pass gave Devlin the try.
It was the first four-pointer Saints had conceded in 262 minutes, since their defeat at Leeds, and a Jules O'Neill goal gave them a lifeline at 24-6.
Gardner was denied a second when Gleeson's pass was ruled forward, although Long edged them away with a penalty on the hour.
Devlin and Long were both stopped short on the power-play as both sides looked for a crucial next score, and it was Widnes who got it in the 70th minute.
Saints had been awarded a 40-20 after Long's kick, although Dan Potter appeared to keep the ball in play, but Gleeson's pass went into touch and Hooper then conceded a penalty to take the Vikings downfield.
Steve McCurrie was stopped short, and lively hooker Phil Cantillon darted past Tim Jonkers to touch down, with O'Neill cutting the gap to 26-12.
Long and Millard were then sin-binned on 72 minutes as tempers flared, and the comeback was well and truly alive when Widnes kept the ball alive on the last and Frame straightened up the attack to send Cantillon in again, O'Neill adding the extras.
It set up a tense final five minutes, although O'Neill saw his long pass fly over the head of Potter and into touch as the Vikings pressed.
And that error proved costly, with Wellens being caught on the last but flicking the ball back for Cunningham to collect and grab the vital try.
Wellens added the conversion to finally seal the two points for Saints as they keep up their surge back into Super League's top six.