A late penalty denied Hartlepool Rovers a share of the points in their Durham Northumberland One opener against Middlesbrough at the Friarage on Saturday.
With Rovers dominating the first half and Middlesbrough taking the second period, a draw would have been a fair result and no more than the hosts would have deserved having scored two tries to the Teessiders’ one.
Middlesbrough arrived on West View Road as firm favourites with most pundits rating them as certainties for the league title, having done the double over the Friaragemen last season, and with Rovers having been heavily beaten 43-5 at Gateshead in their Durham Intermediate Cup tie last week.
Despite fielding a team severely depleted by transfers, injuries and work commitments, Rovers turned the formbook upside down and increased their confidence level by a significant degree.
A losing bonus point was scant reward for their efforts but Rovers are off the mark and go into Saturday’s home date with South Shields Westoe in a better frame of mind than they might have expected.
Everyone from 1-15 and the second half substitutes played their part and coach Carl Robinson was pleased with his side, despite the result.
“I thought our play today was fantastic,” he said.
“We couldn’t have had a tougher opener but the players reacted to last week’s defeat and put in a great performance.
“Patrick (O’Callaghan) and Fuzz (Andrew Flounders) stood out up front and I thought Matty (Stephenson) and Daz (Fawcett) combined well and Taz (Pelser) showed up well after a late call-up in the centre.
“We panicked a bit in the red zone and conceding a soft try at the start of the second half was the only let-down”
Rovers had an early spell of pressure inside the away 22 but the Middlesbrough defence held out and a turnover allowed them to clear to half way.
Matthew Todd and Daz Fawcett both went wide with penalties from 47 metres and 39 metres on 16 and 18 minutes respectively as the two kickers tried to put points on the board with Todd on target with a 35-metre three-pointer after 24 minutes to open the scoring, albeit against the run of play.
Adam Smith and Taz Pelser went close on 31 minutes in the left hand corner before Liam Wood was snaffled after good approach play by Andrew Flounders and Chrissy Harrison.
The Whites had enjoyed over 70% of first half possession and territory and deservedly went 5-3 ahead on the interval when the ball went quickly along the line with Pelser offloading in the tackle to Adam Smith to squeeze in at the railway corner.
A strong start to the second half was vital but, instead, Rovers, in their new white, red and black hooped shirts, conceded a try and conversion on 48 minutes.
Jordan Miller took play to the home 22 with a swerving run and, although Rovers briefly countered through David Grand, when his pass to Pelser went forward, from the scrum Miller skipped a little too easily past three tacklers, Todd converting.
The White Shirts were nearly in on 55 minutes when Pelser made good ground but O’Callaghan’s pass failed to hit the supporting Harrison.
A tap and go by Grand should have brought a further penalty for not 10 metres but Mr Candlish allowed play to continue, however, a second try came after 69 minutes.
A Mick Ryan lineout take saw Fawcett kick crossfield where Harrison and sub Ian Mulvihill were unmarked. The ball eluded Harrison but sub Mulvihill touched down to put Rovers 10-5 ahead.
Another score threatened when Liam Wood sacked Simon Moore on the line and when there was a spell of ball-tennis in front of the posts but Rovers couldn’t get over the whitewash.
A harsh high tackle penalty on 79 minutes saw Todd put his 39 metre kick straight through the uprights to give Middlesbrough a narrow 13-10 lead.
Referee Candlish played some nine minutes of added time but, despite trying hard, Rovers couldn’t find what would have been a winning score.
Rovers; Harrison, S Flounders, Pelser, Grand, A Smith, Fawcett, Stephenson, Pinchen (c), Cushlow, Wise, D Smith, Little, A Flounders, L Wood, O’Callaghan. Subs used: Mulvihill, Ryan, Hanley
Tries: A Smith 40; Mulvihill 69
Penalties awarded 8, kicked 0, missed 1; scrums won 8; lineouts won 15
Middlesbrough: Thornburn, Goddison, Maloney, Miller, B Wood, Todd, Foley, Lynas, Palmer, Colvin, Lang, Tremlett, Pennington, Wilson (c), Mavin. Subs used: Moore, Laverick, Lonsdale
Try: Miller 48; conversion: Todd 48; penalties: Todd 24, 79
Penalties awarded 11, kicked 2, missed 1; scrums won 13, 1 against the head; lineouts won 8
Referee: Paul Candlish (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin; none
Other results: Horden and Peterlee 34 Medicals 5; Northern 34 Consett 10; Novocastrians 38 Hartlepool 27; Ryton 29 Gosforth 17; South Shields Westoe 12 Barnard Castle 18; Stockton 5 Gateshead 27