Hartlepool Rovers’ losing run was extended to three games after a 25-8 loss at Gateshead on Saturday.
The Whites were able to field a stronger line-up than in their previous two fixtures that had ended in defeats at the hands of Acklam and Durham City but, if anything, the side was less cohesive and struggled, especially in attack.
In the build-up to the game, player-coach Steve Smith had bemoaned the tendency for Rovers to either leak early points so requiring a comeback or the wheels coming off in the final quarter.
Neither of these traits happened at Eastwood Gardens, but a poor stoppage time attack as Rovers set off in desperate search of a try that would have brought them a losing bonus point turned into a score for the hosts who picked up their try-scoring bonus point as a result.
The trip to Gateshead, where Rovers, to be fair, have a very good record, looked like an excellent chance to notch a fourth Durham Northumberland One double and consolidate their seventh place in the table.
It didn’t run to the script, however, and Gateshead are now breathing down Rovers’ neck having recorded only their sixth win of the season meaning that Rovers have to get some returns from their remaining fixtures: Novocastrians (h); South Shields Westoe (a); Horden and Peterlee (h) and Northern (h).
Rovers were second best in both halves on Saturday.
Gateshead weren’t that good, but their handling was much safer and in veteran centre David Tate, they had the wise old head to marshall the backline and more often than not used his trusty right boot to push Rovers back into their own 22. At a stroke this piled the pressure on a mis-firing offensive unit to counter from deep.
Throw in a sending off for Liam Wood in the second half and it wasn’t a great afternoon.
Liam Austwicke and Jack Gunn had their moments in the back line as did the Stead brothers Tom and Neil, and Aaron Jeffery in the pack, but as a team it just didn’t happen.
Gateshead had the upper-hand in the first 15 minutes without really creating a clear-cut scoring chance, but this changed in an instant after 20 minutes.
Scott Cartner had given Rovers a let off when he knocked on near the line, but he was in support to take the scoring pass from a lightening break by right wing Nathan Turner and cross in the right hand corner.
A Daz Fawcett three-pointer got some points on the scoreboard for Rovers, but the next score went the way of Gateshead.
For all Rovers’ discipline has improved recently, a penalty saw Gateshead go for the catch and drive and Martin Pluskal’s take set up a maul that ended up with Michael Ewart taken over the line by his pack for a 10-3 lead.
Rovers enjoyed a great end to the first half pulling back to 10-8 on the 40 minutes’ mark.
A tap penalty on the left touchline sent Ian Pinchen and Tom Stead away and, after some inter-passing, another award followed. This time Tom Stead went for the line and offloaded to brother Neil to barge over.
A bright start to the second half brought no reward and the Friaragemen found themselves back inside their own 22, courtesy of a Tate through kick, Cartner slotting a 24 metre penalty for a 13-8 home lead.
Rovers then made a hash of some good field position and pressure with some poor passing forcing the catcher to take a wayward ball from a standing start.
A brief respite from being under pressure followed when Tom Stead showed his strength to put in a run up the left wing only for his pass to Wood to go into touch.
Some slack tackling allowed Martyn Heelbeck to make good ground and he put Nathan Turner in at the right hand clubhouse corner for an 18-8 lead.
Wood’s dismissal for throwing a retaliatory punch was followed by a great break by Austwicke, but the attack petered out.
The White Shirts attempted to run from their line in stoppage time, but were picked off by sub Cameron Nyambega with Tate putting in the overlapping Connor Anderson, Cartner’s conversion making the winning margin 25-8.
Gateshead: Cartner, Turner, Tate, Heelbeck (c), Anderson, Ridley, Craig, Middleton, Ewart, Dale, Wilczek, Pluskal, Hawkins, Cooper, Kennedy. Subs used: Kell, Head, Nyambega
Tries: Cartner 20; Ewart 34; Turner 63; Anderson 80+1; conversion: Cartner 80+1; penalty: Cartner 56
Penalties awarded 9, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 9; lineouts won 14, 3 stolen
Rovers: Evens, O’Callaghan, Austwicke, Gunn, A Smith, Fawcvett, Rochester, I Flounders, T Stead, N Stead, Rayner, Little, Church (c), Jeffery, Wood. Subs used: Bird, Pinchen. Sub not used: Swallow
Try: N Stead 40; penalty: Fawcett 27
Penalties awarded 7, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 10, 1 against the head; lineouts won 4
Referee: Rebecca Rees (Northumberland)
Sent off: Wood 66
Other results: Acklam 26 Medicals 15; Barnard Castle 7 West Hartlepool 39; Durham City 25 Nortehrn 24; Horden and Peterlee 40 Ponteland 5; Whitby 17 Stockton 66.