HORDEN took the derby honours and local bragging rights with this four tries to two victory over Hartlepool Rovers at the Friarage.
With the Collierymen having run in 19 tries in their two previous wins over Consett and Novocastrians – breaking the 60 points barrier in both games – some pundits had the men in claret and blue heading in the same direction against Rovers.
Horden’s coach Glenn Bowman had played down his side’s huge favourites tag in Friday’s SportMail but must have been quietly confident that his team would take the win given his their tremendous performances in 2013.
That the form book goes out of the window in derby games is one of sport’s best known clichés. This was certainly true in Rovers’ case with the hosts putting the previous week’s 31-17 defeat at Guisborough behind them with a much better display.
The Whites, however, were guilty once again of doing their prospects no good whatsoever by having a major hand in two of the four tries they conceded.
The other two tries could arguably be said to be the result of referee intervention: one being a penalty try and the other scored when Rovers were temporarily reduced to 14 men.
The Rovers’ coaching duo of Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson refused to blame Durham official Ray Sutherland for the loss, instead dwelling on Rovers’ shortcomings.
That the penalty count was 17 all suggests neither side had the moral high ground-and that would be right.
But the home fans were unimpressed with the awarding of a first half penalty try, two yellow cards for Rovers to one for Horden and several crucial decisions going the way of the visitors.
“We were harassed in the scrums,” said Puckrin, “and looking at the full 80 minutes that was what cost us the game in the end.
“We were missing three front rowers today in Fuzz (Andrew Flounders), Squid (Kevin Maguire) and Danny Cookland. Every club in the country would like more front row players and Rovers are no different.
“We continue to cause ourselves problems by kicking, and poorly, hard-earned ball away which just puts the pressure straight back on us and that area of our game needs improvement.”
Did Horden deserve to win? Undoubtedly. Would they have done so without the penalty try and sinbin differential? Almost certainly and there the argument and debate should end.
The Durham Northumberland One table is what counts now and it shows Horden still sat at the top of the pile with three bonus point victories and a healthy 112 points difference. Rovers are fourth bottom and, after a weighty bonus points return last season, have yet to record one this campaign.
Just as worrying for Rovers is that, while only four teams have a meaner defence, no-one has scored fewer points.
The fixture list has dealt Rovers a tough September and this weekend doesn’t get any better with a visit to second placed Medicals who are locked on 15 points with Horden but have an inferior points difference.
Horden who took a 7-0 lead after six minutes. A poorly directed clearance kick was fielded by David Heckles on his 22.
The full-back set off, chipped and collected on halfway, and then put in an elusive run to the line for a fine solo try, Andrew Turner adding the extra points.
The number 10 then went wide with a 30 metre penalty on 16 minutes and then he and Craig Jones nearly squeezed in at the right hand clubhouse corner.
The Rovers’ scrum was creaking under the pressure of the away eight and the pressure increased when Glen Wise was yellow carded after 22 minutes.
When the next set-piece collapsed, Mr Sutherland ran between the posts to award a penalty try, Turner adding the simple conversion.
The 14 men of Rovers then rocked Horden by fighting their way upfield to the away 22 where Stewart Grazier powered forward.
He was supported by Taz Pelser who sent Lee Maddison in from 15 metres out, Chris Sainty converted although he later went wide on 39 minutes with a 35-metre penalty.
With the first half in added time, Rovers turned defence into attack in an instant. James Evens, returning after injury, backed himself as he broke from his own 22 and Pelser then acted as the link to Liam Austwicke. The full back, making his first appearance of the season, took over on the home 10 metre line and had a lot to do but a mazy run took him all the way, Sainty again converting to make the interval score 14-14.
The early stages of the second half produced a surreal passage of play in the railway corner.
From a penalty Horden would opt for an attacking scrum; Rovers would defend manfully, hold out and then be penalised at the next play.
Horden would then take the scrum rather than the penalty and the process would start all over again.
The level playing field shifted in favour of the visitors when Maddison was sin binned and the extra man was made to count as Horden, at the eighth scrum, pulled the defence in and created an overlap for Jones to sneak in at the Steetley corner.
Jones had seen little of the ball but proceeded to score his second try in a minute. The right wing kicked ahead from the restart but David Grand and Austwicke arguably left the ball for each other.
The result? The ball bounced kindly for the chasing Jones to streak away the 40 metres to the line.
Turner’s conversion increased the lead to 26-14 with 53 minutes played and he then added three more points with a 27 metre penalty just after the hour mark.
Horden were then forced to defend as Rovers used a combination of scrums and mauls to keep play in and around the away 22 but they could not score.
Rovers pulled a deserved consolation score back with the final move of the game.
After Sainty, Evens and Austwicke had been closed down, the ball was popped up for Michael Barnfield to score an unconverted try in the left hand corner.
Rovers; Austwicke, B Cushlow, Sainty, Evens, Grand, M Barnfield, Pelser, Tucker, J Cushlow, Wise, Power, Pinchen, Grazier, Maddison, Dring (c). Subs used: Little, Wilson, S Barnfield
Penalties awarded 17, kicked 0, missed 1; scrums won 13; lineouts won 8
Tries: Maddison 27; Austwicke 40+3; M Barnfield 80+2; conversions: Sainty 27, 40+3
Horden: Heckles, Jones, Smith, White, Cox, Turner, Watson, G Malcolm, Thirkell, Davison, Thubron (c), P Malcolm, Wood, Turton, James. Subs used: Thompson, Stott, Baines
Penalties awarded 17, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 13, 2 against the head; lineouts won 11
Tries: Heckles 6; Penalty Try 23; Jones 52, 53; cons: Turner 6, 23, 53; pen: Turner 61
Referee: Ray Sutherland (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Wise 22, Maddison 49, Watson 71