Hartlepool Rovers came down to earth with a bump at the hands of Durham City at the Friarage on Saturday.
Two wins on the bounce over Gosforth and Novocastrians had improved confidence on West View Road that the Whites could give City a run for their money in this clash which, as well as Durham Northumberland One points being at stake, also counted as a Durham Intermediate Cup tie.
At first glance, this seven tries to one defeat looks like a hammering but for long periods the match was evenly balanced.
The crucial difference was that the Citizens took the chances on offer whilst Rovers hammered away at Durham for no reward.
This, of course, is an old failing of Rovers and, camped on the away line either side of half time, with the visitors down to 13 men, was an obvious time to make hay but nothing came of some serious pressure.
Rovers also, as shown against South Shields Westoe and Novos, can make a ‘come on through’ invitation to the opposition by offering little or below-par defensive qualities and there were way too many instances of this on Saturday and City are far too good a side to turn such generosity down.
Going a try down after 53 seconds isn’t going to help any team and Rovers, having conceded, had given City, one of the favourites for promotion, a head start that they wouldn’t look back on.
Once again, skipper Callum Whitehead led from the front but the sight of their captain and talisman limping off part way through the second half was a worrying sight.
Flankers Tyrone Church and Liam Wood offered back row support and in the backs Adam Smith and Chrissy Harrison stuck to their tasks well but, overall, it was a difficult afternoon, as player-coach Steve Smith acknowledged afterwards.
“I can’t fault the work rate of the pack who, I thought, got better as the match went on but I’m disappointed with that result.
“City played a simple game and their ten often just had a little show of the ball and then got his backs away.
“We were too high in the tackle, despite working on that in training, and, overall, out defending was very poor.”
City took less than a minute to take a 5-0 lead when an innocuous-looking attack from their own line quickly brought a touchdown for James Cook in the Railway Corner.
Two attacking lineouts on eight minutes put the pressure on the home defence and from the second Howard Johnson went over in the same corner.
Michael Barnfield kicked a 24 metre penalty three minutes later to put some points on the board but missed from 36 metres on 15 minutes, however, in-between these were more than wiped out by City’s third try when burly centre Chris Metcalfe trundled over from the 22.
Barnfield was wide again with another three-pointer on 25 minutes and some woeful tackling after 31 minutes gave Metcalfe, arguably the slowest back on the pitch, the chance to run in from 30 metres out. Paul Armstrong’s first conversion of the afternoon made it 22-3 and City already had their try-scoring bonus point.
Armstrong and Johnson were sin-binned within a minute of each other and was the cue for the Friaragemen to pummel away at the City line but to no avail.
A Patrick O’Callaghan run after the break saw Whitehead held up in the Steetley Corner but the number eight failed to control the ball as the five metre scrum headed for the line and Rovers blew a another award with David Grand and then Wood failing to use the over-lapping Adam Smith.
From their next attack on 53 minutes, City extended their lead to 29-3 with Tom Elliott having all the time and space he needed to cross, Armstrong converting.
It was becoming all too easy for Durham and after 58 minutes it was 36-3 with Bradley Pears in after some weak tackling, Armstrong using the strong wind to help his touchline conversion.
A strike against the head by Kevin Maguire brought some brief respite but Rovers were turned over and Metcalfe offloaded in the tackle to Craig Dominick to go under the posts, Armstrong’s extra points making it 43-3 with 65 minutes played.
The White Shirts then had their best passage of play for a while, Adam Smith being bundled into touch two metres out after a mazy 18 metre run.
The left winger was nearly in again on 70 minutes from a turnover but had Wood on hand when held 10 metres out to get Rovers’ try.
Rovers: Rochester, O’Callaghan, Grand, Gunn, A Smith, M Barnfield, Harrison, S Smith, Cookland, Pinchen, Little, Raynor, Church, Wood, Whitehead (c). subs used: Fawcett, Maguire, R Clayton Try: Wood 70; penalty: Barnfield 11
Durham City: Stewart, Elliott, Pears (c), Metcalfe, Cook, Dominick. Armstrong, Hog, Reader, Wilson,
Holden, Powell, Johnson, Davison, Dent. Subs used: Atkinson, Cotton, Bailey
Tries: Metcalfe 13, 31; Cook 1; Johnson 8; Elliott 53; Pears 58; Dominick 65; conversions: Armstrong
31, 53, 58, 65
Other results: Consett 30 S Shields Westoe 12; Gateshead 61 Redcar 21; Guisborough 52 Novocastrians 10; Medicals 31 Gosforth 15; Ponteland 20 Barnard Castle 28; Stockton 20 Horden and Peterlee 25