HARTLEPOOL Rovers suffered the dreaded “After the Lord Mayor’s Show” syndrome at Blyth
Granted, Rovers left Plessey Road with a vital win to consolidate third place in the Durham Northumberland One table; but their performance was flat and uninspiring and easily their worst display of the season.
The Whites have played better at Blyth in their previous two visits only to leave empty-handed and so to win having played badly should not be viewed as the end of the world. The hosts had, however, been conceding points as if they were going out of fashion – 77 last time on home turf to Consett and 89 at Guisborough last time out.
Given Rovers’ injury and unavailability list, those totals were never going to be within touching distance but a par score might have been 30 or 40 points and so Rovers were some way adrift. They also failed to register a try-scoring bonus point that had become the norm lately as the backs have run riot.
Although the performance was disappointing it was, perhaps, on the cards at some stage given the excellent shows put on by Rovers over recent weeks. Every sporting team is going to hit the buffers at some point in a season and Saturday was Rovers’ turn.
The visitors allowed themselves to be dragged into a slugfest up front on a heavy pitch and they failed to use their backline to any degree – the major factor behind the recent wins. Leading try-scorer Adam Smith, once again, hardly saw the ball and full-back Michael Barnfield had no opportunity to hit the line.
Rovers weren’t helped by an early exit through injury for James Evens.
Still, the four points for the win were obtained but there will have to be a vast improvement when Rovers visit Gosforth on Saturday as the reverse fixtures begin.
It was a grim, dark and cold afternoon in Blyth and the floodlights were on from kick-off with Rovers dominating the early stages and taking a fourth-minute 3-0 lead with a 17-metre Daz Fawcett penalty.
Blyth headed straight downfield and ought to have scored from a five-metre scrum but Wayne Davie knocked on when trying to take a return pass from Tony Smithson.
The home eight, however, disrupted the next scrum and Dean Langdown touched down although he had knocked on by a good yard but Mr Richardson was unsighted on the blindside of the set piece.
The hosts were lifted by the score and Jonathan Grey was wrapped up and Davie then spilled the ball when over the line.
The next chance on 26 minutes also fell to Blyth but James Bostock saw his 24 metre penalty hit the right hand upright.
Rovers used a sequence of penalties to camp inside the home 22 and after three tap and goes saw Ben Little, Steven Barnfield and Danny Baxter halted, number eight Michael Foster powered over to regain the lead for Rovers 8-5.
The teams went in at the break level 8-8 when Jarvis took over the kicking duties to slot a three-pointer from 18 metres with the last play of the half.
Smith got a rare sight of the ball at the start of the second period but even then it was a chase to a Steven Barnfield kick but the ball just rolled dead before he could reach it.
The fare on show was poor from both sides and Rovers weren’t helping their cause by some increasing ill-discipline.
The hosts were just as guilty and Rovers took full advantage to score their second try after 65 minutes.
The Whites found themselves in the left-hand corner from a Fawcett penalty and swarmed all over the try-line with Andrew Flounders, Ben Little and Steven Barnfield going agonisingly close. Blyth lost Nick Fraser to the sin bin first and he was followed shortly afterwards by Steven Long as the Greens tried everything to stop Rovers from scoring and the referee could justifiably have awarded a penalty try.
When a scrum might have been the tactic, Rovers went for another tap penalty and, after Lee Maddison was the latest to be hauled down just short of the line, the ball was passed to Jack Gunn to dive over. Fawcett added the extra points via the left post and the lead was now 15-8.
Fawcett had the chance to put some more distance between the sides but his 23-metre penalty on 70 minutes rebounded off the right upright, the third kick of the game to hit the woodwork.
The number 10 then tried a clever diagonal kick but Fleet could just not take it at full stretch when a clean catch might have sent him away to the line.
Rovers somehow failed to score after 75 minutes as they passed along the backline only metres from the try-line and they then lost Kevin Maguire to the sin-bin to set up a desperate last few minutes of defence.
“It’s four points away from home,” said coach Graham Puckrin. “To be honest, there’s not a great deal more to say about that match. Whatever we tried didn’t come off and every time things didn’t go right it built up the pressure further but we didn’t collapse.”
“There have been times in games like this when we have imploded and gone on to lose,” fellow coach Carl Robinson continued.
“At the end of the season all that this match will show will be another W in the win column. We’ll remember it as a win but it won’t matter how we played, it’s the four points that count.”
Blyth: Jarvis (c), Grey, Sutherland, Bradwell, Allen, Bostock, Smithson, Barber, Stephenson, Fraser, Awcock, Turnbull, Langdown, Long, Davie. Subs used: Mickle, Browne, Rose
Try: Langdown 8; penalty: Grey 40
Penalties awarded15, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 11; lineouts won 12
Rovers: M Barnfield, Fleet, Gunn, Evens, Smith, Fawcett, S Barnfield, A Flounders (c), Maguire, Little, Baxter, Wilson, Church, Maddison, Foster. Subs used: Wood, I Flounders, White
Tries: Foster 38; Gunn 65; conversion: Fawcett 65; penalty: Fawcett 4
Penalties awarded 20, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 8; lineouts won 10
Referee: Paul Richardson (Northumberland)
Sent off; none; sin bin: Church 54; Fraser 62; Long 63; Maguire 77
Other results: Consett12 Medicals 24; Darlington 13 Morpeth 31; Durham City 53 Novocastrians 8; Gateshead 51 Ryton 3; Gosforth 10 Guisborough 43 ; Sunderland 18 Stockton 12