Hartlepool Rovers put in a much-improved performance to take a well-deserved 18-7 win at Gateshead on Saturday.
Eastwood Gardens has been a happy hunting ground for the Whites over the years and they, once again, didn’t disappoint in claiming a much-needed away win that could have been more comprehensive.
It is important not to get carried away but all bar one of the remaining fixtures are against sides below Rovers in the Durham Northumberland One table; the exception is Consett whose record at the Friarage isn’t anything to write home about.
Despite enforced changes, the team pretty much gelled and which came from confidence that they could get a result. Once the first whistle blew, Rovers were first and fast out of the blocks and a fourth minute drop goal by new signing Ryan Foreman gave the visitors an immediate platform.
Foreman and scrum half Taz Pelser linked up well and brought the backline into play and for whom Steven Railton was a strong last line of defence and Steven Barnfield and Jack Gunn had good games in the centre.
Graham Coutts and sub Patrick O’Callaghan were solid on the wings but there was the worrying sight of Adam Smith forced off with a repeat of the rib injury sustained in the Boxing Day derby. Paul Kirton, once again, rolled back the years with a steadying role off the bench.
Up front, Steve Smith, Kevin Maguire, sub Scott Buttery, Billy Lloyd, Dylan Langley and Darren Smith formed a good front five and Joe Little, Liam Wood and skipper Callum Whitehead enjoyed typical displays in the back row.
Home veteran David Tate badly missed a second minute penalty from 20 metres and Rovers raced upfield and, with advantage being played, Foreman kicked a neat drop goal from 36 metres to open the scoring.
Sam Hall then butchered a simple right wing chance with Rovers taking full advantage to run in an 80 metre try on 15 minutes.
Liam Wood broke away from a lineout on the away 22 and made halfway and a long pass from Foreman to Barnfield opened up the home defence with O’Callaghan taking over from the Gateshead 22 to offload to the supporting Railton to cross. Foreman’s touchline conversion just missed but Rovers had an 8-0 lead.
Rovers should really have extended their lead after 26 minutes when Barnfield and Coutts combined but Little, Whitehead, Langley and Foreman were all halted as play moved left to right across the pitch and Maguire, Barnfield and Whitehead as play switched back.
Rovers were playing with a purpose and energy level not seen and sustained for some time and a stoppage time 20-metre penalty from Foreman gave Rovers an 11-0 half time lead that they fully deserved.
The Friaragemen were straight back onto the attack at the start of the second period and a quick break by Pelser and a great sleight of hand saw Langley get to the line only for Rovers to be penalised.
Gateshead made a mess of trying to tap and go and Pelser broke and his well-timed pass put Barnfield away and who ghosted in for a try. Foreman put over a tricky conversion and the lead had increased to 18-0 on 42 minutes.
A lost lineout on half way after 49 minutes proved costly for Rovers with Charlie Ladds breaking through midfield and some good support play saw Hall cross to the left of the posts, Tate’s straightforward conversion cut Rovers’ lead to 18-7 and gave Gateshead a sniff of a fightback.
The Tynesiders had already blown some good field positions through knock-ons and continued to do so in the icy conditions to help explain the high scrum count to Rovers.
The penalty count against Rovers was also starting to build and they can consider themselves fortunate that 18 awards didn’t trigger at least one yellow card from referee Ray Sutherland.
Tate broke on 56 minutes to set up Conner Anderson who only had to hand on to Adam Ridley for a try but he chose to go it alone and was snaffled.
Rovers then wasted three good opportunities of their own by a knock on, a lost lineout and an overcooked kick ahead and, although not as fluent as in the first half, remained in control of the game.
Steve Smith was in a much-happier mood than of late, saying, “Our organisation was much better today as people knew what was expected of them and what they are doing as we have had good training numbers during the week.
“Ryan Foreman added some zip to the back line and the scrum was excellent. There is still a lot to improve on but any away win is a good one.”
Gateshead: Hall, Anderson, Carr, Heelbeck (c), Ridley, Tate, Craig, J Thandi, Ewart, Moslemi, Ladds, McGowan, Surrey, Marshall, Pluskal. Subs used: Lambert, Woodhall, Riley
Try: Hall 49; conversion: Tate 49
Penalties awarded 18, kicked 0, missed 1; scrums won 8; lineouts won 12, 4 stolen
Rovers: S Railton, Coutts, S Barnfield, Gunn, A Smith, Foreman, Pelser, S Smith, Maguire, Lloyd, Langley, D Smith, Little, Wood, Whitehead (c). Subs used: Buttery, O’Callaghan, Kirton
Tries: Railton 15; Barnfield 42; conversion: Foreman 42; penalty: Foreman 40+1; drop goal: Foreman 4
Penalties awarded 7, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 17, 1 against the head; lineouts won 6, 2 stolen
Referee: Ray Sutherland (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: none
Other results: Barnard Castle 24 Consett 21; South Shields Westoe 123 Gosforth 0; Novocastrians 5
Horden and Peterlee 20; Ponteland 25 Medicals 22; Stockton 35 Redcar 10