FOR Hartlepool Rovers, the wait for Durham Cup glory goes on.
Rovers ended as bridesmaids again when Durham City clinched a deserved victory at the Friarage last night.
Playing a cup final against a side of Durham City’s calibre with 15 players on the park is difficult enough
It was the third year in a row Rovers had lost in the showpiece of the Durham Intermediate Cup.
Both their final defeats to Consett in 2013 and 14 ended with thoughts of ‘what might have been’ especially the heartbreak of 12 months ago when the width of the post denied them victory at death at Hollow Drift.
Last night, however, there were was no such drama, no hard luck story – City were the better side and were worthy winners by three tries to one.
There were some mitigating factors, notably a pre-match dispute over the start time.
Rovers thought it was a 6.30pm kick-off, the referee and his team had been instructed by Durham RFU to start at 7pm while Durham City were under the impression it was 7.30pm and did not arrive at the ground until after 6pm.
The match eventually got under way just after 7.08pm and thankfully ended before darkness descended on West View.
Rovers had been out and ready at 5.45pm, a full 90 minutes before the kick-off and one can only wonder if that was a factor.
They also lost both wingers, including their top try scorer Adam Smith, to injury in the first half and that did not aid their prospects.
But the biggest significant factor was one which was self-inflicted.
Rovers lost three players to the sin-bin in the first half, including spending the end of the period with 13 players.
Playing a cup final against a side of Durham City’s calibre with 15 players on the park is difficult enough.
But Rovers played virtually half of the first 40 minutes short-staffed.
Had the yellow-card offences taken place when Rovers were desperately trying to repel their rivals then you can understand it, but all, three incidents were in the Durham half.
A pumped up Callum Whitehead was binned inside the first minute for punching. Sometimes, a bit of early handbags is often dealt with by a stiff warning though on this occasion, referee Barrett Aldwinckle decided to stamp his authority on proceedings and it’s hard to argue with the referee on that one.
This reporter did not see what Michael Barnfield did to earn his ‘breather’ in the 32nd minute but Mr Aldwinckle was certainly on the spot and blew quickly for the penalty.
It’s nigh on impossible to criticise Lee Maddison given the outstanding displays he has produced in a white jersey.
But why the flanker seemingly attempted to trip a Durham player within two minute of Barnfield’s exit was hard to fathom.
Maddison seemed to make no contact but, again, Mr Aldwinckle saw it and acted.
At that stage, Rovers trailed just 8-0 playing into the wind.
Had they got to the sanctuary of half-time only a single digit adrift then things may have been different.
But they conceded a converted try in the last minute and a hard task became something of a mountain to climb.
It has to be said there was no lack of effort from the hosts but cup finals are often won and lost by small margins.
There may be frustration that there was inconsistency from the referee who waited until the 76th minute before yellow-carding a City player.
But Rovers scored too many own goals and, ultimately, did not generate sufficient pressure or create enough danger to fashion any great chances.
Hopefully, Rovers will learn and come back wiser, better and stronger next season.
There is plenty of talent at the disposal of coaches Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson and a good club atmosphere to build things around. It is up to the players, the platform is there for them.
Rovers fell behind in the 13th minute to a 30-metre Paul Armstrong penalty and it could have been worse but for two tremendous pieces of defensive work.
Steven Barnfield made a superb tackle on Chris Metcalfe when the powerhouse winger looked through down the right in the 15th minute and lock Dylan Langley saved his side down the other side of the field when Durham were favourites to score seven minutes later. However, a try seemed inevitable and it arrived in the 25th minute.
City kicked a penalty award to the right touchline into the home 22, where they put in a huge 10-man drive for hooker Kenny Reader to get the touchdown wide out.
While Rovers did not threaten themselves they were coping pretty well into the wind and their overall discipline was good.
But that stat took a knock when Michael Barnfield and Maddison were yellow-carded within two miniutes of each other.
Still, Rovers looked like surviving until half-time but City applied late pressure and took full advantage of the gaps in defence for Metcalfe to go through and score, crucially running close to the posts to make the conversion easier for Armstrong.
Rovers had a chance to get points on the board at the start of the second half when still down to 13 men but Chris Sainty’s 38-metre penalty towards the clubhouse end posts fell short.
They had another penalty opportunity from closer in just after the hour but chose to run it, instead of either putting points on the board or going for a line-out.
The hosts spilled the ball and the chance was lost.
Excellent work by Liam Wood set Steven Barnfield away in the 22 in the 69th minute but the scrum-half could not go all the way.
City effectively sealed the win six minutes from time in virtually their first – and only – visit to the home 22. They kept the ball effectively and stayed patient and waited for the gap which came when centre Bradley Pears went over down the left.
Rovers kept fighting and went close when Steven Barnfield was stopped short after Danny Baxter had collected Jon Cushlow’s line-out. Sub James Evens did crash over from eight metres in the 77th minute with Sainty converting.
City, who conceded a penalty count of 18-8, ended with 13 men after two late sin-bins but time had run out for the hosts.
Rovers: Austwicke, B Cushlow (Gunn 37), Coulson, Sainty, A Smith (Grand 38), M Barnfield, S Barnfield, A Flounders (I Flounders 54), Maguire (J Cushlow 67), Wise (Tucker 54), Langley, Baxter, Wood (Foster 62), Maddison, Whitehead.
Try: Evens 77. Con: Sainty
Penalties awarded 18, kicked 0, missed 1; Line-outs won 8; Scrums won 7
Durham City: Heron, Huitson, Pears, Stevenson, Metcalfe, Armstrong, Paxton, Hay, Reader, Parkinson, Baty, Wilson, Maw, Brown, Dent. Subs used: Guthrie, Hogg, Howe, Wilson, R Smith
Tries: Reader 25; Metcalfe 40, Pears 74. Con: Armstrong 40. Pen: Armstrong 13
Penalties awarded 8, kicked 1, missed 0; Line-outs won 16; Scrums won 8
Referee: Barrett Aldwinckle (Durham)
Sin-bin: Whitehead 1, M Barnfield 32, Maddison 34, Maw 76, Pears 79