Hartlepool Rovers missed the chance to close the gap on the side immediately above them in the league table with a 22-21 defeat to Stockton at the Friarage on Saturday.
The second half featured some 12 minutes of stoppage time which ended with an Ian Pinchen try to make the score 22-21 in favour of Stockton and present Rovers’ debutant Ryan Foreman with a dream chance to win the game for his side.
Rovers, once again, did not help themselves by conceding an early score.
Having nailed more difficult kicks earlier in the game, Foreman took aim from just outside of the 22 and 10 metres to the left of the posts but his kick agonisingly curled wide of the right-hand post.
Rovers, once again, did not help themselves by conceding an early score and trailed 7-0 after only a minute.
Otherwise, the home defence was reasonably solid but the same could be said of Stockton’s defensive work and, with three tries apiece, the difference between the teams was veteran kicker Jeremy Good who kicked two conversions and a penalty to two penalties for Foreman.
All eyes were on the performance of Foreman at stand-off and the 17-year-old enjoyed a promising debut.
There were several deft touches and dinky kicks to show what he has learned from his link with the Newcastle Falcons but it will take a few games for he and his team-mates to gel.
There was a woeful start for Rovers with Stockton’s full-back Johnny Horner breaking from just inside his own half and a determined and swerving run took him to the 22 where he kicked ahead and re-gathered to score, Good converting.
Rovers won turnover ball on the Stockton 10 metre line on 11 minutes and sure handling saw Foreman and David Grand both look good bets to breakthrough and Adam Smith received to just squeeze in at the Railway Corner.
More good handling by Rovers sent Jack Gunn clear but he failed to use the unmarked Ian Coulson outside of him and was closed down by two cover tacklers.
The Whites kept the pressure on Stockton and Foreman slotted a 25 metre penalty on 19 minutes to score his first points for the First XV and give Rovers an 8-7 lead.
A neat break by James Evens on 26 minutes saw the centre and Lee Maddison nearly breach the cover.
With advantage being played, Foreman tried a 30 metre drop goal which went just wide but he made no mistake with a 36 metre three-pointer to extend the lead to 11-7.
The half closed with Foreman going wide with a 25 metre penalty and the second half started in a similar fashion to the first period with Rovers leaking an early score.
The Stockton pack kept the ball alive well and eventually created a chance for Mark Conway to just sneak in at the Steetley Corner for the visitors to lead 12-11.
The White Shirts declined a kickable penalty after 50 minutes.
The tap and go move met with strong resistance on the Stockton line but, from a further penalty, Kevin Maguire was taken over by his pack and the lead was back with Rovers 16-12.
Forward pressure from a well-drilled away eight told after 58 minutes when the visitors drove to the line and sub Steve Thornton crossed under the posts, Good’s conversion handing the lead back to Stockton 17-16.
Good extended the lead to 22-16 with a 64th minute 24 metre penalty.
He went for goal again on 74 and 77 minutes in an attempt to put his side more than one score ahead and run the clock down but he was well wide with his first effort and his second kick rebounded into play off the right-hand post.
A stolen line-out relieved more danger but just when Rovers needed to play keep-ball, they kicked it away twice in quick succession.
With time up, Rovers put together a superb passage of play with the pick and go being used to good effect to take them into the Stockton 22.
With advantage being played, Rovers tried to send their backs away but the move broke down and from a tap and go, Pinchen powered over the line to set up a kick-it-to-win-it conversion.
It was a real “Roy of the Rovers” moment for Foreman but he couldn’t take it and Stockton, who just about shaded the game, celebrated wildly.
“Had we stolen the result right at the end, I think it would have been very harsh on Stockton,” said coach Carl Robinson afterwards,
“I think we were too often looking to Ryan at 10 to create space and make something happen and this has to be the responsibility of everyone not just one man.
“The first half was not great by any means but we did have a lead at the interval.
“In the second half, we weren’t really at the races and struggled to impose ourselves as we had in the first half.
“I thought Ryo (Foreman) had a solid debut. He has shown that he can get us onto the front foot and can kick the points.
“Okay, he missed with a couple but he just might be the solution to the kicking problems that we have had this season.”
Rovers: Gunn, Coulson, Grand, Evens, A Smith, Foreman, M Stephenson, A Flounders, Maguire, Pinchen, Langley, Ryan, Church, Maddison, Dring (c). Subs used: Whitehead, Wood, Wise
Tries: Smith 11; Maguire 50; Pinchen 80+12
Penalties awarded 12, kicked 2, missed 1; scrums won 7, 1 against the head; lineouts won 12
Stockton: Horner, Morris, Taylor, Thornton, Crozier, Good, Thwaites, Conway, Barrass, Taylor (c), Doherty, Cheetham, Healey, Highfield, Gray. Subs used: Nelson, Tampin, Austin
Tries: Horner 1; Conway 44; Thornton 58; conversions: Good 1, 58; penalty: Good 64
Penalties awarded 13, kicked 1, missed 2; scrums won 9; lineouts won 10
Referee: Colin Davison (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Church 73
Other results: Consett 18 Acklam 6; Darlington 5 Durham City 91; Horden 23 Gateshead 8; Medicals 7 Ryton 38; Middlesbrough 36 Gosforth 5; Ponteland 0 Novocastrians 29