Hartlepool Rovers failed to take the winning chance offered to them against Gateshead on Saturday, a losing bonus point their only reward.
With games running out in the fight against relegation, this contest was earmarked as one of the three wins thought to be needed to reach safety.
A decent first half performance was followed by a second period when the side lacked shape and conceded too many penalties. There was a last chance deep into stoppage time but the Whites couldn’t take it and nearly leaked a score that might have cost them their bonus point.
With six players missing through work commitments and injury, there was a match-day blow with Chrissy Harrison reporting unfit but there was the plus of Taz Pelser being unexpectedly available.
The home eight were, once again, in good form but the backs failed to match them and too many turnovers and poor kicking too often handed the ball immediately back to Gateshead. The kicking, chiefly by Pelser and his halfback partner Daz Fawcett, was unerringly accurate; the problem being the ball was usually punted straight down the throat of the Tynesiders’ most dangerous player, Scott Cartner.
In contrast, Cartner, Alun Barlow and David Tate put the ball into space; behind Rovers forcing them to back-pedal or rolling into touch in the corners.
With Novocastrians, who started the day immediately below Rovers, hammering Ryton, 62-0 the single point return for the Friaragemen saw them drop a place to third bottom to increase the pressure. A win at Gosforth on Saturday is now imperative.
Early pressure saw captain for the day Callum Whitehead and Alex Rochester nearly squeeze in but Rovers had to make do with a Lewis Humble penalty from 23 metres after four minutes.
Loosehead prop Aaron Moslemi then popped up unmarked on the left wing twice in two minutes only to put a foot in touch from a clear scoring chance on the second occasion.
A poor clearance on 12 minutes found Barlow and a clever crossfield kick saw Rovers penalised and a quickly taken penalty brought a try for Moslemi who was driven over the line by his pack for the visitors to lead 5-3.
Humble went for goal again after 16 minutes to try and regain the lead but he pushed his 35 metre effort wide.
Receiving the ball from the 22 dropout, Fawcett tried a diagonal kick for Adam Smith but it was off target and rolled dead.
Rovers went 10-5 ahead on 19 minutes with a try for Patrick O’Callaghan.
Prop Johnny Thandi spilled Smith’s kick ahead and, after the winger had paused awaiting the whistle, Smith retrieved the ball and headed upfield putting O’Callaghan in from the 22. Humble added the extra points and Rovers deservedly led.
Smith should have increased the lead after 26 minutes when Steven Barnfield pulled off an interception but both full back and then Smith couldn’t put daylight between them and the chasing defenders.
After a Humble kick ahead on 33 minutes for David Grand and Smith was touched down first by Cartner, play switched ends where the vastly experienced Tate failed to use a two-man overlap.
With Rovers a man down after Dylan Langley was sent to the sin bin, they pulled off a turnover as the visitors swarmed over the home line as the first half entered stoppage time.
Rovers had a let off with the second period only a minute old with the bounce of Barlow’s kick through beating the despairing dive of Cartner.
A break by Glen Atkinson a minute later was taken on by Barlow and Martyn Heelbeck who opened up the cover for Cartner to cross to the right of the posts. He then added the extra points and the lead was back with Gateshead 12-10.
Three penalties in quick succession saw Gateshead stay in the Railway Corner but a turnover relieved the danger.
Rovers were struggling to get out of their own half and the penalty count began to rise as Gateshead sensed another score was coming.
A needless penalty for being in front of the kicker at a 22 dropout allowed Gateshead to go for a catch and drive in the Steetley Corner.
The White Shirts held out only to concede another penalty 18 metres’ out; Cartner’s kick looked good but it struck the right upright and Rovers cleared.
When a pick and go move faded and was then penalised two minutes into added time it looked as though Rovers’ last chance had gone.
Liam Wood and Whitehead combined though to rampage into the away 22 winning a penalty.
Whitehead tapped and went and play switched to the left hand clubhouse corner where several surges failed to see the ball grounded over the whitewash when it seemed harder to miss than score.
Tate picked off a loose ball and sprinted upfield releasing Adam Ridley who was body-checked by Rochester who was shown the yellow card by referee Gareth Foreman.
Play continued for a further four minutes but the only chance went Gateshead’s way and when Wood stole the ball there was a long way to go for Rovers and it was too far.
Rovers: S Barnfield, Rochester, Humble, Grand, A Smith, Fawcett, Pelser, Ross, Maguire, Lloyd, Langley, Ryan, O’Callaghan, Wood, Whitehead (c). Subs used: Hanley, Stevenson, Cushlow
Try: O’Callaghan 19; conversion: Humble 9; penalty: Humble 4
Gateshead: Cartner, Banning, Tate, Heelbeck (c), Ridley, Barlow, Owen, Thandi, Ewart, Moslemi,Holland, Surrey, Atkinson, Sandhu, Pluskal. Subs used: Bentham, Skidmore, McGowan
Try: Moslemi 4; Cartner 42; conversion: Cartner 42
Referee: Gareth Foreman (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Langley 37; Moslemi 45; Whitehead 65
Other results: Consett 40 South Shields Westoe 24; Horden and Peterlee 18 Barnard Castle 22; Medicals P Hartlepool P; Middlesbrough 41 Gosforth 8; Northern 33 Stockton 13; Novocastrians 62 Ryton 0