West Hartlepool suffer first league defeat at Alnwick

Hartlepool Rovers in action during their defeat to  Gosforth on Saturday

Hartlepool Rovers in action during their defeat to Gosforth on Saturday

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West Hartlepool’s lead at the top of North One East is down to just three points after third-placed Alnwick inflicted their first defeat of the season.

In an absorbing game in which both defences ruled it was a try two minutes from time by home full-back James Bird which finally clinched the win.

His conversion attempt from wide on the right sailed trough the posts to deny the visitors what would have been a deserved losing bonus point.

With all of the top sides yet to visit Brinkburn, West still remain favourites for promotion, but head coach Iain Dixon says they will have to cut out simple errors.

“Our skills deserted us at times,” he said. “Too many passes went high and we knocked on a couple of times when we were in their 22 and you can’t afford to do that in tight games like these.

“Alnwick were really up for the game. We competed well and it may have been different if we had been given a penalty try early on - but we will never know.”

That incident came on the quarter hour. Home winger Peter Moralee deliberately knocking on as West were looking to make the most of a two-man overlap just 10 metres from the home line.

Moralee was sent to the sin-bin for stopping the move, but referee Phil Stokes decided not to go between the posts for a penalty try.

West attacked from the resulting penalty forcing three successive scrums close to the home line but when scrum half Ryan Painter did force his way over he was judged to have knocked on and Alnwick finally cleared their lines.

The home side were leading 3-0 thanks to a 10th-minute penalty from Bird as Alnwick started the better. West had grown into the game and deservedly drew level on the half hour after Sam Miller burst through the defence to take the play into the home 22. Gavin Painter making the most of a penalty after Alnwick were judged to have handled in a ruck.

He was narrowly wide with another effort as most of the play was in the home half, but it was Bird who made the most of an opportunity ten meters into the West half to give his side a 6-3 half time lead.

West’s response from the restart was immediate with Alnwick penalised in their own 22 and Painter opting to level the scores

However, the Northumbrians responded by forcing the first try of the game. A penalty was kicked to the corner and West were penalised for using hands in the ruck with the home side opting for the scrummage which had been serving them well all afternoon.

They drove for the line with flanker James Hamilton touching down. Bird’s kick was wide and with Aaron Myers leading from the front West set about trying to overcome the five point lead.

Replacement Jay Corbett was unfortunate to knock on as he barreled towards the line.

Then the visiting forwards forced a series of penalties in the home 22 with both Miller and Aaron Myers going close as the visitor’s opted for scrums.

However, coach Dixon intervened to instruct his side to go for the posts as Alnwick were judged to be offside and Painter’s kick brought the lead back to just two points.

Alnwick attacked from the restart and seized the initiative when a clearance kick from Ryan Painter was chased down by Rob Thorn and Lee Maddison but both were judged to have been in front of the kicker.

West were forced to defend in their own 22. Unfortunately they ran out of numbers as the home backs spun the ball our right with Bird coming into the line and going over close to the corner to set himself up for that kick, which meant West headed back down the A1 without anything to show for their considerable efforts.

Alnwick: James Bird, Peter Moralee, Sean Hutchinson, Frank Hutchinson, Rory Mallaburn, James Warcup, Hugh Todd, Duncan Smith, Hamish Burn, Colin Phillips, Richard Ellis, Ollie Sutheran, Gordon Smith, James Hamilton, Ben Gothorpe.

Reps (all used): Peter Brown , Simon Ord, Ben Courty.

Tries Hamilton Bird.

Con: Bird

Pens Bird (2)

Yellow: Moralee.

West: Zac Southern, Rob Thorn, Eldon Myers, Peter Youll, Will Hilditch, Gavin Painter, Ryan Painter, Tim Blades, Andrew Rollins, Ross Wood, Joe Rafferty, Dan Boatman (captain), Aaron Myers, Lee Maddison, Sam Miller.

Reps (all used): Greg Edwards, Alex Barker, Jay Corbett.

Pens: G Painter (3)

Referee: Phil Stokes (Liverpool)