Hartlepool Rovers’ search for a first win at Barnard Castle goes on after Saturday’s 35-25 defeat at Parsons Lonnen.
The Whites’ recent form suggested that an away win against the side that started the afternoon immediately below them in the table was a distinct possibility.
Rovers left the market town bitterly disappointed, but ultimately, it was one of Rovers’ old failings that cost them the game.
All too often, Rovers have hammered away at the opposition for no or little reward only to then concede points at the other end of the pitch.
On Saturday, Rovers enjoyed the first 25 minutes with some considerable possession, pressure and territory but which, crucially, brought no points and then, having eventually gained three, they endured a 16 minute period at the end of the first half that saw the hosts score 13.
A last-kick-of-the-half three-pointer from Ryan Foreman made the interval home lead of 13-6 not terminal, but the damage had been done.
Psychologically there had been a momentum shift and Castle made Rovers pay for their generosity by edging the second half.
That’s not to say Rovers laid over and died for they scored three tries of their own in the second half to stage a comeback, but touchdowns at the start of the half and at the death by Castle showed how to take chances on offer.
Rovers had the better of the opening quarter and put Castle under pressure but, despite being earlier to the breakdowns and in greater numbers, too often Rovers ended up being penalised.
Foreman scuffed a 15 metre drop goal on 25 minutes thinking advantage was being played; it didn’t happen but the number ten kicked a 29 metre penalty four minutes later when Steven Barnfield had been held back from chasing a kick ahead; an offence that brought no yellow card.
Rovers, failed to deal with the restart well and Castle headed to the away 22 where Rob Stanwix was taken over the line from an attacking lineout.
Sam Errington increased the home lead to 8-3 with a 35 metre penalty six minutes into added time which both sides expected would bring the half time whistle.
Play restarted, however, and Castle used the next three minutes to batter away inside the Rovers’ 22, eventually seeing Joe Larder cross for a 13-3 lead. Ian Flounders was yellow-carded for a professional foul in the build up and, such had been the amount of added time, Dylan Langley’s sin bin had actually ended before Flounders’ had started.
Incredibly, there was still another two minutes of action and Foreman kicked a well-judged 36 metre penalty with 51 minutes on the clock.
The Friaragemen fell further behind five minutes after the break when Stanwix touched down after the home pack had taken a strike against the head, Errington’s conversion making it 20-6.
Rovers stormed upfield from the restart through Mark Burnside and Taz Pelser and some good close handling saw Patrick O’Callaghan storm to the line from 14 metres out, Foreman adding the extra points to cut the deficit to 20-13.
Errington steadied Castle’s nerves with a 36 metre penalty after 51 minutes to undo some of Rovers’ good work and on 59 minutes they turned over a lineout steal by Rovers with Liam Riley scoring, Errington’s conversion making for a 30-13 lead.
Back came Rovers and they hit the home 22 on 62 minutes where great composure was rewarded when Pelser and Liam Wood fed Alex Rochester to squeeze in at the right hand corner and it was 30-18 with Rovers having the hosts rattled.
The fightback continued after 66 minutes when Callum Whitehead put in a bullocking run taken on by Pelser who was tackled a metre out but had Stephen Railton on hand to dive over, Foreman’s conversion was good and Rovers now only trailed 30-25.
A losing bonus point was the very least that the White Shirts deserved, but they had hopes of completing the comeback with another score.
These were dashed with home number eight Stanwix completing his hat-trick from close range for the final score of 35-25.
“I feel desperately disappointed at this result,” said player-coach Steve Smith afterwards.
“The standouts for me were Burny (Mark Burnside) as an emergency number eight; Alex (Rochester) for a solid game at full back and for his excellent finish for his try and Jack (Gunn) for some tremendous tackling.
“To lose the bonus point at the end was brutal and gave a flattering scoreline for Barnard Castle, but we’ll go again next week against Acklam.”
Barnard Castle: Hill, Johnston, Harper, Upton, Summers, Errington, Doyle, Hughes, Allison (c), Brunell, Worley, Burke, Riley, Larder, Stanwix. Subs used: McConnell, Fagalilo, Bainbridge
Tries: Stanwix 33, 45, 80; Larder 40+9; Riley 59; conversions: Errington 45, 59; penalties: Errington 40+6, 51. Penalties awarded 11, kicked 2, missed 0; scrums won 9, 2 against the head; lineouts won 15, 3 stolen
Rovers: Rochester, S Railton, S Barnfield (c), Gunn, A Smith, Foreman, Stephenson, I Flounders, T Stead, Lloyd, Langley, O’Callaghan, Baggs, Wood, Burnside. Subs used: Whitehead, Sainty, Pelser
Tries: O’Callaghan 48; Rochester 62; Railton 66; conversions: Foreman 48, 66; penalties: Foreman 29, 40+11. Penalties awarded 7, kicked 2, missed 0; scrums won 9; lineouts won 4, 2 stolen
Sin bin: Langley 38; Flounders 40+9
Referee: Les Cash (Durham)