Hartlepool Rovers’ wait for a win at Stockton’s Grangefield ground continues after this 34-22 defeat on Saturday.
The Whites have now a played three-lost three record at Stockton’s new home but, after 23-0 and 20-3 defeats on their first two visits, they are getting closer.
Close is not enough, however, and some poor discipline and game management as the 80 minutes were nearly up cost Rovers the losing bonus point that was the least that they deserved after a fantastic tussle with their hosts.
Rovers, once again, got off to a slow and poor start but had got back into the game at the interval.
The match then turned when Rovers failed to finish off a huge spell of aggressive attack after the break.
The try that would, with Rovers trailing 17-15, have given the visitors the lead didn’t come, however, and two tries in quick succession gave Stockton a 14-point lead that allowed them to control play although a try and conversion from Ryan Foreman gave Rovers hope that they might come back again.
Although pushed around in the scrum, and second best in the lineout, the pack put in a good shift in the loose with Callum Whitehead and Liam Wood, in particular, making excellent ground but too often there was no support on their shoulders to take play on.
The backs had their moments with a brace of tries for Steven Railton but the failure to make a crucial or final pass allowed Stockton to put in the tackles to halt those moves.
Stockton full back Jonny Horner put over a penalty from the 22 after just three minutes as the Teessiders penned Rovers in their 22 and a try followed five minutes later when Charlie Doherty won lineout ball and Mark Conway finished off the drive to the line from the set piece.
Horner kicked a good wide-out conversion and it was a 10-0 lead for the hosts with Rovers having hardly had a touch of the ball.
Rovers put in a superb driving play on 11 minutes with Whitehead and Tyrone Church getting to half-way where the ball was spread and Railton received on his own 10-metre line to break, chip the cover and then hack on to touch down for a fine solo effort. Foreman added the extra points and the home lead was now 10-7.
The visitors then found themselves stretched on halfway and Doherty broke several tackles as he worked his way down the left wing to power his way to the line and another well-struck conversion by Horner made it 17-7.
Rovers broke out of defence after 27 minutes through Jack Gunn and Wood with the flanker winning a penalty, Foreman kicking the 24 metre three-pointer.
The Friaragemen were enjoying having the upper-hand and Railton got a second try on 34 minutes with another moment of individual brilliance.
Foreman made the initial break and then the full back took over to kick on twice and he beat the chasing defence and team-mate Wood to pick up and dive over the line to cut the deficit to 17-15.
Railton broke away again on half time only to be felled by a high tackle that seemed to warrant at the very least a yellow card, and arguably a red, with the number 15 having no one left to beat.
A penalty 35 metres out, however, was all that was given and Foreman pulled his kick.
Rovers started the second half well and, showing good support play and handling throughout the side, a tremendous spell of pressure saw the home line under constant threat but the defence held out and Stockton forced a knock-on to relieve the danger.
The failure to convert all that pressure into points was cruelly exposed when Stockton countered on 54 minutes to break up the right wing with Horner finishing maybe a little too easy for Rovers’ liking.
Rovers then conceded again seven minutes later when sub Dan Muirhead was taken over the line from an attacking lineout, Horner converting.
All of a sudden, Rovers had relinquished control of the game and allowed Stockton to dictate play and look very dangerous.
Rovers clawed their way back into contention after 65 minutes when Foreman broke and, as had Railton, he hacked upfield and close to the line picked up to go over by the posts and then convert to pull his side back to within a converted score 29-22.
Time was running out for Rovers and they looked to have committed suicide on 75 minutes when they conceded a kickable penalty that was advanced 10 metres for dissent to make for a simple effort for Horner.
The, now, 19-metre kick struck the right hand post to give Rovers a let-off.
The White Shirts couldn’t break clear and lost their losing bonus point when they conceded another penalty and, with Stockton opting for kick to touch, the home eight drove to the line, James Graham getting the try to make the final score 34-22.
Director of Rugby Mick Ainslie rued the lack of any reward for Rovers, saying, “We showed our naivety at the end to leave us with nothing.
“I thought our overall team discipline was good but within the team it was awful; all we seemed to want to do was argue with each other from the very start.
“It’s a waste of energy and just hands the initiative to the opposition without any effort on their part.
“Our game-management at the very end was awful; instead of looking to defend the one point that we had we allowed them to score.
“Had we scored at the start of the second half-which we should have done - it might have been a different outcome but we couldn’t get over the line when we were 10 metres out. They could when it was the other way round and there’s the reason that they won - we made it too easy for them.
“We tried to rush things and often that’s a sign of not having the confidence to keep the phases going or try something different, some greater commitment to training would help that.”
Stockton: Horner, Crozier, Tampin, Jones, Hargreaves, Good, Thwaites, Nelson, Conway, McHugh, Hodgson,Taylor, Healey, Doherty (c), Dixon. Subs used: Muirhead, Sutton, Graham
Tries: Conway 7; Doherty 18; Horner 54; Muirhead 61; Graham 80+2 conversions: Horner 7, 18, 61; penalty: Horner 3
Penalties awarded 9, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 11; lineouts won 11
Rovers: S Railton, Coutts, Mulvihill, Gunn, K Stephenson, Foreman, Rochester, Pinchen, Maguire, Lloyd, S Smith, D Smith, Wood, Church, Whitehead (c). Subs used: Burnside, O’Callaghan, Dring
Tries: S Railton 11, 34; Foreman 65; conversions: Foreman 11, 65; penalty: Foreman 27
Penalties awarded 5, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 9, 1 against the head; lineouts won 4
Referee: Les Cash (Durham)
Sin bin: None; sent off: none
Other results: Consett 55 Guisborough 15; Gateshead 21 Durham City 56; Horden and Peterlee 16 South Shields Westoe 33; Medicals 14 Barnard Castle 57; Ponteland 41 Novocastrians 34; Redcar 45 Gosforth 22