Hartlepool Rovers put up a brave fight in defeat in going down 39-16 at South Shields Westoe on Saturday.
Given the extent of Rovers’ absentee list and with Westoe starting the day at the top of the Durham Northumberland One table, the result should come as no surprise.
Once again, however, the Whites’ depleted line-up more than competed and enjoyed some dominant spells.
Inbetween times, though, the visitors struggled to cope with a sharp set of Westoe backs who ran strongly and passed at speed to put the visitors’ defence and try-line under pressure.
As against Medicals last time out, Rovers started really well only to be undone by some greater clinical finishing, a legacy of Westoe’s spell in the higher leagues.
The defeat sees Rovers slip further down the table and they now lie in 10 th a matter of a few weeks since they were sat in a promising third.
With Gateshead immediately below them, tied on points and having two games in hand, Rovers are effectively a place lower and face a derby with Horden and Peterlee on Saturday.
The division continues to be mighty tight, however, with only 13 points covering Horden in fourth to Gateshead in 11th.
A winning run can see a club climb rapidly - witness Stockton who had lost their first six matches but then won six out of eight to lie sixth-but a few quick defeats as Rovers have found can be damaging.
For the defeated visitors, Michael Railton stood out at full back, scoring a try, and James Evens marshalled a backline containing three back rowers in Freeman Lane, Liam Wood and Patrick O’Callaghan.
Up front, Andrew Dring, Danny Charters and, especially, Callum Whitehead travelled some hard yards with the ball in hand and Dylan Langley and Mick Ryan took some good lineout ball.
Rovers started well and some good pack play saw Charters and Tony Ross illegally halted five metres out and Daz Fawcett put the penalty over for an 11 th minute 3-0 lead.
A turnover on the away 22 after 15 minutes proved costly when slick hands sent Jamie Preston away to squeeze in at the left hand corner followed by the first of many skirmishes that saw Whitehead sin-binned.
Rovers didn’t help their cause on 22 minutes when, with a clearance to touch called for, they tried to run out of defence and a knock-on was seized upon by Jake Arnold whose long pass put Luke Moffett in for a try, Arnold adding the extra points for a 12-3 lead.
Fawcett hit the left hand upright with a 34 metre penalty on 25 minutes. Criminally no player chased the kick but Fawcett put the ball cleanly through the middle three minutes later when Westoe had killed the ball on their own line.
Referee Carl Hall failed to spot a clear knock-on by Derek Worthington and Arnold played to the whistle to pick up the ball and run home unopposed and, with 38 minutes played, Westoe led 17-6.
In added time, a great run by Whitehead nearly put O’Callaghan in at the left hand corner but with an advantage being played, Glen Wise went over to cut the deficit to 17-11.
The niggly under-current claimed its next victim with Ross shown the yellow card on 48 minutes and Westoe used the penalty to head downfield and they kept the ball alive well for Ben Roberts to just get in by the left hand corner flag.
It was two tries in two minutes, though, when Moffett was allowed too much time and space and the full back sliced though the defence to cross and Arnold’s conversion made the lead 29-11.
The Friaragemen were rattled and Westoe turned the screw further when, four minutes later, Arnold darted over and struck the left post with his conversion attempt for a 34-11 lead.
Railton had looked a dangerous runner himself from deep but on 65 minutes he entered the line and brushed off the tackles to reach the line and narrow the gap to 34-16.
Preston streaked down the right hand flank after 75 minutes to complete the scoring although Railton and Taz Pelser nearly pulled another score back in the closing stages.
“I can’t fault the effort again today,” said head coach Carl Robinson.
“All 18 players who turned out and put their bodies on the line can be very proud of the rugby they played.
“It’s not gone our way again but we have seen the players show great steel and passion and the likes of Michael Railton lay claim to a starting shirt.”
South Shields Westoe: Moffett, Preston, Worthington. Potts, Roberts, Arnold, Booth, Elliott, Walker, Scorer, Younghusband, Sant, Kirton (c), Evans, Ramsay. Subs used: Lamb, Wilson, Pascoe
Tries: Preston 15, 75; Moffett 22, 57; Arnold 38, 61; Roberts 54; conversions: Arnold 22, 57;
Penalties awarded 6, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 6, 1 against the head; lineouts won 11
Rovers: M Railton, Lane, Wood, Evens, O’Callaghan, Fawcett, Pelser, Wise (c), Dakers, Ross, Langley, Ryan, Charters, Dring, Whitehead. Subs used: Lloyd, Buttery, D Smith
Tries: Wise 40+2; Railton 65; penalties 11, 28
Penalties awarded 9, kicked 2, missed 1; scrums won 12, 1 against the head; lineouts won 7
Referee: Carl Hall (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Elliott 11; Whitehead 16; Ross 48
Other results: Barnard Castle P Gateshead P; Horden and Peterlee 29 Middlesbrough 15; Northern 21 Medicals 13; Novocastrians P Consett P; Ryton 5 Hartlepool 20; Stockton 16 Gosforth 17