BOTTOM club Bournemouth came within a whisker of upsetting table-toppers Henley Hawks, going down 26-20 at Chapel Gate.

Few gave Bournemouth a chance in their opening fixture of 2020 with 15 league places and 55 points between the sides going into the match, writes Adam Hunter.

But it was a spectacle to savour for the home supporters, who will rue missed chances and indiscipline that cost their team.

Despite collecting a losing bonus point for their efforts against the title hopefuls, Lions performance director Richard Sharp was left disappointed.

He said: “If someone had offered a bonus point before the game I’d have taken it, but all the way through it looked like we should win, and their tries were against the run of play.

“But once again, we don’t have the experience to close the game out when we are under pressure.”

Lions began brightly with sustained possession and territory rewarded on 11 minutes with a penalty from the boot of the metronomic Grant Hancox.

Brimming with confidence they followed up immediately with an opportunist try from wing Adam Higgins, who picked up a loose pass after his forwards had the Henley pack creaking at the scrum. Hancox added the extras for a lead of 10-0 on the quarter-hour.

But the unforced errors that have cost Bournemouth earlier this season came back to punish them as successive yellow cards forced them to play the second quarter with 14.

First, lock Toby Kenneally was dismissed for pulling down a defensive maul, conceding a penalty try in the process. Shortly after his return, wing Ben Meaden saw yellow for holding on in a ruck on his own five-metre line. Henley scrum-half Ewan Fenley snuck over, with fly-half Ben Bolster converting for a half-time lead of 14-10.

Bournemouth regrouped and began the second half as they had the first, with Meaden crossing for a try and Hancox again converting.

But a lapse in concentration allowed the lively Fenley to break from his own half to score his second, with Bolster converting to restore the four-point cushion.

Henley showed their quality locking down possession, with wing Reuben Norville securing the bonus point with a try on 52 minutes. A Hancox penalty on 65 minutes gave his team hope at 20-26, but they failed to convert late pressure into a winner.

The familiar story - coming close and giving the game away - is what frustrates Sharp.

“We would get into the strike zone and then kick possession away or get turned over,” he said.

“What they had over us was really good ball carriers, and in the first half we didn’t come up to meet that challenge.

“Making tackles behind the gain line really let them build up a head of steam and put us under pressure in midfield.”

He added: “They also had a very good number nine, and a number 14 who looked threatening every time he got the ball.

“It highlighted that we don’t have the pace that some of these teams have.

“If we did, the margin would have been the other way around.”

Lions' losing bonus point could prove decisive come the season’s end with the tough fixtures continuing at home against Tonbridge Juddians on Saturday (2.30pm), a side who leapfrogged Henley with a five-point win at the weekend.