Saturday’s 59-3 defeat at Northern saw both the best and worst of Hartlepool Rovers of late.
The siege mentality that had shone through in defeat recently was present once again until late on when it became a case of humiliating surrender with four tries being conceded in nine minutes.
Hartlepool Rovers aren’t too famous a club to suffer the drop.
At other times, however, the ball protection was woeful; there was little threat to the home line and too many times it was a haphazard and isolated break by an individual.
For much of the first hour, Rovers more than held their own against the side that had started the day in second place in the table and were unlucky to trail 14-3 at the break.
Once Northern had sensed their running backs could cut the away defence to shreds and had put their kicking game to bed, however, there was only going to be one winner and it was a brutal last quarter for Rovers.
That this was the, by far, heaviest loss of the season can’t be swept under the carpet.
A result at McCracken Park would have lifted Rovers a place or two but, instead, they have dropped to third bottom.
Hartlepool Rovers aren’t too famous a club to suffer the drop and they aren’t too good a team – the table doesn’t lie. It has suddenly become a case of hoping that the sides below them will lose and that is a dangerous game to play.
Only the players, who have held a ‘closed-shop’ meeting, can lift the gloom and put things right but on Saturday’s evidence there is no immediate miracle cure.
The penny has yet to drop that nothing short of total preparation, commitment, effort and skill are needed in every match and nothing less than two wins in the next two fixtures at home to Novocastrians and away to Ryton will do.
The Friaragemen leaked an early try when Harrison Clark broke and sold a dummy before sending Chris Malley in at the left hand corner.
Donal Collins, who converted seven of the nine tries, put over the touchline conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Liam Wood was then halted five metres out after a good break by James Evens but some points eventually came when Daz Fawcett kicked an excellent 36 metre penalty on 27 minutes.
This was undone after 37 minutes when number eight Tom White picked up from a five-metre scrum to barge over the line, Collins again on target from the touchline.
Rovers had a kickable penalty reversed and later kicked the ball when they had a good field position.
After Ali Gray and Chris Ure were stopped by try-saving tackles and holding out against a maul 11 minutes later, recycled ball saw Gray flip a pass to Clark to go under the posts for a simple conversion and a 21-3 lead.
A clever cross-kick by Collins brought the next score with Owen Clemett catching the ball two metres out for a simple drop over the line and another wide-out two extras extended the lead to 28-3.
It was then two tries in two minutes with Clark picking up a loose ball after a Rovers’ move had broken down on halfway and he sprinted away to the line with Stephen Flounders putting in a valiant chase. Collins made the lead 35-3 and Rovers needed to man-up.
The weakest of tackling brought Northern’s next try after 72 minutes with White bouncing off a tackle on the 22 and shrugging off two or three others to make it all the way to the line and it was 40-3.
Malley broke from the restart kick to set up his pack and good hands created a chance for Joe Young and who was under no pressure as he easily touched down.
The kick-off was a shambles and Ure took the ball on from the Rovers’ 10 metre line and with no-one interested in putting in a tackle he had the easiest of runs home, Collins, after two misses was back on target and the lead was 52-3.
If that was bad then even worse was to follow with White getting his hat-trick with embarrassing ease, Collins’ seventh conversion mercifully bringing the rout to a halt.
“Inexperience is costing us,” said coach Carl Robinson afterwards.
“We have a young team and the experience that is vital in certain areas just isn’t there.
“Add in the failure to keep hold of the ball and we were just opened up.
“It’s been a desperate few weeks but I know we are capable of turning it around.”
Northern: Wright, Clemett, Clark, Young, Malley, Collins, Gray, Connor, Wilson, Colesky, Kay, Annis, Harnby, Ure, White (c). Subs used: Matthews, Holmes, Marks
Tries: White 37, 72, 80+1; Clark 53, 64; Malley 2; Clemett 62; Young 77; Ure 78; conversions: Collins 2, 37, 53, 62, 64, 78, 80+1
Penalties awarded 5, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 5; lineouts won 14
Rovers: Harrison, S Flounders, Evens, Coulson, Rochester, Fawcett, Pelser, Clayton, J Cushlow, Lloyd, Langley, Ryan, O’Callaghan, Wood, Dring (c). Subs used: Little, Austwicke, Henderson
Penalty: Fawcett 27. Penalties awarded 11, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 11; lineouts won 9
Referee: Michael Harriott (Northumberland)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Clemett 40+3; Colesky 67
Other results: Barnard Castle 29 Hartlepool 8; Gateshead 15 Gosforth 6; Novocastrians 25
Middlesbrough 17; Ryton 10 Medicals 36; South Shields 12 Horden and Peterlee 17; Stockton 22 Consett 18