Hartlepool Rovers’ eight-match winning run came to an abrupt end on Saturday when they went down 31-0 to Middlesbrough.
The trip to Acklam Park was a game too far for the Whites who failed to make their hosts work for their win and who now need to bounce back for Saturday’s Durham Intermediate Cup semi-final at Sunderland.
Despite the loss, Rovers finished their Durham Northumberland One campaign in sixth place in the table and which represented quite a turnaround having been in third bottom spot following their poor start to the season.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the match was Rovers’ failure to stick with the running, passing and support-play game plan that had brought those eight wins. Instead they played a forward-based and offload style that too often ended in a knock-on, forward pass or turnover.
Rovers actually started well but a failure to protect the ball allowed Middlesbrough to counter through Michael Thornburn and Joe Gaudie before Taz Pelser, Ian Pinchen and Dylan Langley combined to take play to the home 22.
A knock-on at the breakdown halted the move and Thornburn and Jack Bircham then took Boro to the Rovers’ tryline where James Pennington powered over from a sequence of mauls. Matthew Todd put over the touchline conversion and the hosts led 7-0.
Pelser was putting in some sniping breaks but Rovers continued to fail to keep the ball and Middlesbrough increased their lead after 33 minutes to 12-0 when inter-passing by Thornburn, Rob Bellerby and Ben Wood saw the winger cross in the right hand corner.
It was then two tries in three minutes as Rovers conspired to give their opponents what already seemed like a winning lead.
A poor lineout and clearance allowed Joe Gaudie to get on the end of a break to touchdown.
Although there was a hint of the number ten dropping the ball, the referee awarded the try and Todd’s routine conversion made it 19-0 at the break.
Todd was allowed far too much space from the kick off and he brushed past half a dozen would-be tacklers to go from one 22 to the other.
Rovers held out and, from a tap penalty, Pelser tried to put Lee Maddison away but the pass went to ground.
The visitors then had a chance to put some points on the board with a simple penalty. Instead they went for the catch and drive and lost the lineout, one of five throw-ins stolen by Middlesbrough.
The Friaragemen then put in a tremendous shift inside the home 22 but could not get over the line despite the efforts of Andrew Flounders, Callum Whitehead and Pinchen. Daz Fawcett looked to have gone under the posts but was ruled to have been held up.
The 14 men of Middlesbrough had defended heroically but were helped, it has to be said, by Rovers being devoid of ideas as how to fashion some clear chances and 12 minutes’ worth of pressure ended with a penalty to Middlesbrough.
That was as good as it got for Rovers who looked set to rue those two tries late in the first half and their failure to use the strong breeze that was now in their favour.
Alex Rochester saved a try in the 81st minute but his good work was undone two minutes later.
Rovers lost the ball and Euan Tremlett, aided by some poor tackling, stormed to the line from the 22 for the bonus point score although, again, the ball seemed to have been dropped rather than grounded as he stretched for the line. Todd’s extras made the lead 26-0.
Thornburn completed the scoring by running in the final try.
“We were too lethargic today,” said coach Carl Robinson afterwards.
“We panicked at times and had no cohesion.
“There was far too much individual play and it was a poor way to end the league season.
“There is still the cup to go for and we desperately want to lift that silverware – we now need to react positively to this result, perhaps this might be the kick up the backside that we need.”
Middlesbrough: Todd, Wood, Bellerby (c), Thornburn, Bircham, J Gaudie, Foley, Colvin, Kearney, Warsama, Tremlett, Bradford, Pennington, Wilson, Lang. Subs used: Palmer, Lynas, S Gaudie
Tries: Pennington 20; Wood 33; J Gaudie 36; Tremlett 80+3; Thornburn 80+3; conversions: Todd 20, 36, 80+3
Penalties awarded 8, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 13, 1 against the head; lineouts won 15
Rovers: Rochester, S Flounders, Austwicke, Gunn, A Smith, Fawcett, Pelser, A Flounders, Maguire, Pinchen, Langley, Baxter, O’Callaghan, Maddison, Dring (c). Subs used: I Flounders, M Stephenson, Whitehead
Penalties awarded 17, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 11, lineouts won 6
Referee: Carl Walsh (Yorkshire)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Dring 52; Pennington 69
Other results: Acklam 13 Ryton 41; Consett 34 Ponteland 29; Darlington 12 Novocastrians 74; Gateshead 20 Stockton 20; Gosforth 6 Durham City 38; Horden 45 Medicals 24