West Hartlepool rocked by home defeat to Alnwick
West Hartlepol's North One East title hopes suffered a serious blow after losing for the first time at home this season.
Chances of automatic promotion now look distant, with West now third, a point behind Penrith, who occupy the play-off spot, and 11 adrift of Pocklington.
All is not lost as the Brinkburn outfit have a game in hand, with the leaders still to visit Catcote Road.
In truth, West were well beaten by fourth-placed Alnwick on Saturday, failing to break down a resolute away defence, despite attacking for long spells.
Mistakes proved costly at crucial times, with the visitors, on the other hand, taking their chances well.
West head coach Iain Dixon said: “We had enough possession and stole enough line-out ball to have won several games.
“However, you have to give credit to Alnwick for some tremendous defence and when they did get into our half they took their chances very well.
“Our decision making let us down at times but I can’t fault the effort the lads put in. They worked very hard but came up against a well drilled team which did the basic things very well.”
An early try for flanker James Hamilton got Alnwick going after a clearance kick was charged down and West failed to clean up the loose ball.
The boot of James Bird added the conversion together with a penalty moments later for a 10-0 lead with just 11 minutes played.
West lost Sam Miler to a nasty-looking ankle injury after he surged for the right corner and then shortly afterwards Greg Edwards also left the field after a blow to the face – frustratingly occurring a few phases after the ball went into touch but the linesman’s flag wasn’t noticed until after his injury.
Reshuffles in the forwards and backs weren’t the only problems the early replacements caused, it would leave the hosts short of fresh legs when West could have done with them in the second half.
Anth Carr did get over the line in first time injury time after another lengthy period of pressure in the away 22. Gav Painter missed the conversion after some confusion over whether a charge down attempt had started too early but referee Harrison seemed happy and play continued.
With the second half came a West period in the ascendency but crucially it brought no points.
Phase after phase West battered away but the Alnwick defence was up to the task.
In and around the rucks they drove West backwards in the tackle and frustrated the home team with ferocious competiveness at the breakdown.
In virtually their first visit into home territory after the break Painter miscued a kick and wing Peter Moralee looked to be away up the touchline only for his chip ahead to go straight out of play.
Alnwick were not to be denied though as they stole the line-out and when the ball was eventually moved left a few phases later, Bird was on hand to finish off the score and add the conversion
It was a cruel blow and, even with 15 minutes to go, one West were never going to recover from.
West continued to battle away without reward but Alnwick’s attack grew in confidence and Moralee got the third try five minutes from time when he showed tremendous pace to be first to a well-judged grubber kick.
West visit Durham City this Saturday in a re-arranged game.
West: Southern, Youll, Checksfield, Edwards, Mallinson, G Painter, Siddle, Coates, Rollins, Carr, Bunter, Miller, Maddison, Boatman, Miller.
Reps: Wood, Rafferty, Hilditch
Alnwick: Bird, Moralee, Cuthbert, Hutchinson, Mallaburn, Warcup, Ord, Phillips, H Burn, D Smith, Grey, Sutheran, G Smith, Hamilton, Ellis.
Reps: Clayton, Gothorp, J Burn
Tries: Hamilton, Bird, Moralee
Cons: Bird 2. Pen: Bird
Referee: Lewis Harrison (Durham)