It had been a long time for Hartlepool Rovers – 65 days to be precise – since they last tasted victory but Saturday’s 30-21 home win over Novocastrians might just be the result that finally kick-starts their season.
The last time that the Whites won a game in Durham Northumberland One was way back on November 21 when they took a 25-20 away win at Darlington and Saturday’s success was only their fifth league win of the season.
Saturday’s performance and result will count for nothing, however, if Rovers fail to do the business next up at Ryton but, having already won there in the Durham Intermediate Cup, they might just fancy their chances.
It was only natural for there to be a fair number of doubting Thomases amongst the Friarage faithful ahead of the game; it’s been that sort of season. But the players showed the passion and pride, allied to effort, needed to get results in what is a very competitive division.
All 17 players used by coach Carl Robinson contributed to the win. Unused sub Joe Little was visibly upset not to have got onto the pitch to show the emotion that came with this victory.
Rovers also had to come back from conceding in the third minute but already had their try-scoring bonus point in the bag after 49 minutes.
A last-move-of-the-game try for Novos made the winning margin closer than it ought to have been and Rovers left at least eight points on the pitch courtesy of some poor place-kicking.
The scoreline also made a mockery of the hosts’ recent form that had seen them concede 198 points in their previous four games whilst scoring only 41 – and 29 of those were scored at struggling Ponteland last time out.
Rovers’ habit of leaking early scores continued when Bruno Smith finished off a break by Pete Twentyman and added the conversion for good measure.
The home side’s response was to go for a catch and drive on six minutes with Kevin Maguire breaking and James Evens being alert to touchdown Liam Austwicke’s grubber kick.
A mass brawl erupted after 16 minutes when Mick Ryan was upended at a lineout and, when the fisticuffs subsided, referee Ranbir Dhillon showed the yellow card to the two captains as punishment for their teams’ indiscipline.
There was a case for another yellow card when Ian Coulson was shoulder-charged into touch five metres from the line after a slick passing move but a try did follow from the lineout when Tyrone Church seized upon a loose ball to go over in the Steetley corner and Rovers led 10-7, Austwicke’s conversion striking the left upright.
The White Shirts then went close on three occasions before going into the break 15-7 to the good.
Austwicke missed with a routine penalty two minutes into added time before some great driving play by the home eight from a tap penalty saw Danny Baxter carried over. Evens took over the kicking duties but could not convert.
A knock-on by Sam Busby on the away 22 after 49 minutes led to Rovers’ bonus point try with skipper Andrew Dring breaking from the scrum and the supporting Evens putting Coulson in at the right hand clubhouse corner.
The former National League player became the third home kicker but could not add the extras to his own try but his side now led 20-7 and were in control.
There was controversy on 55 minutes when Mr Dhillon indicated that Novos had opted to go for goal only for the visitors to take a tap penalty. The immediate danger was repelled but from the next lineout Josh Wright took lineout ball and was taken over the tryline and Richard Dodd’s conversion cut Rovers’ lead to 20-14.
The next score was going to be vital and it went to the Friaragemen after 69 minutes after an unbelievable run by Adam Smith. The slightly-built winger set off down the left flank and eluded two tacklers; brushed off two challenges and then a high tackle five metres out to still make it to the line.
Coulson slotted the wide out conversion and Rovers enjoyed a 27-14 lead.
A high tackle on David Grand with the 80 minutes up saw Wright sent to the sin bin and Coulson coolly put over the three-pointer to extend the lead to 30-14.
Novos pulled seven points back when James Parkinson touched down at the second attempt after a chip by Dodd who put the conversion over with the final kick of the match.
“I thought the front five were excellent today,” said Robinson afterwards. “And the back row built on that.
“The score flattered Novos to be honest. They will have expected to just have to turn up and get a win but we’ve deservedly taken five points that a lot of people wouldn’t have expected of us.
“We’ve scored five excellent tries and if you take away their first and last tries it would have been even more convincing.
“We need to tighten up the set pieces a little and some missed kicks might have cost us today but this has really given us a lift.”
Rovers: Gunn, Coulson, Grand, Evens, A Smith, Austwicke, M Stephenson, I Flounders, Maguire, Pinchen, Baxter, Ryan, Wood, Church, Dring (c). Subs used: Rochester, Ross. Sub not used: J Little
Tries: Evens 6; Church 22; Baxter 40+5; Coulson 49; A Smith 69; conversion: Coulson 69; penalty: Coulson 80
Penalties awarded 13, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 9; lineouts won 10
Novocastrians: Busby, Forbes, Ward, C Parkinson, J Parkinson, Dodd, B Smith, Twentyman, Stowe, Menzfield, Stacey, Wright, Dodds, Warren, Littlefair (c). Subs used: Goodman, Stewart, Wilson
Tries: B Smith 3; Wright 57; J Parkinson 80+4; conversions: B Smith 3; Dodd 57, 80+4
Penalties awarded 11, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 7; lineouts won 10
Referee: Ranbir Dhillon (Warwickshire)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Dring 16; Littlefair 16; Wright 72
Other results: Acklam 15 Durham City 47; Consett 24 Gosforth 0; Darlington 19 Gateshead 45; Horden 15 Stockton 9; Medicals 10 Ponteland 15; Middlesbrough 29 Ryton 6