West Hartlepool suffered only their second home loss of the season as seventh-placed Morpeth took the points in the North One East clash at Brinkburn.
The visitors scored three tries to two in a 21-15 victory and it was a disappointing showing from West – they have played far better than this at home this season – but despite that were still in the game in second half injury time before a length of the field interception finished the contest.
West couldn’t have too many complaints though – they were second best in the scrum, threw countless loose passes and missed too many first up tackles. Morpeth were effective at slowing the ball down and neutralised West’s usually dangerous forward ball carriers.
The reality of the first half was West were fortunate to go into the break only 7-0 down.
Morpeth missed a shot at goal on 11 minutes but opened the scoring with a try from second row Karl Campbell with 17 minutes on the clock.
Full-back Andy Gayner had made the initial surge up-field and Campbell was on hand to finish from close range.
West were under pressure for the majority of the half, conceding a succession of penalties, but somehow keeping the visitors from adding to their score. They lost Zac Southern to the sin-bin for a tackle off the ball but scrambled the ball clear when it looked like a try would be scored.
Morpeth’s other clearest opportunity was created by centre Will Thornton who bust through tackle after tackle before finally being stopped short and West relieved the pressure with a penalty for not releasing.
West’s best moments of the half came in the closing few minutes with a couple of close lineouts but they couldn’t get over the line for what would have been an important score.
Given the balance of the game, West had done well to limit Morpeth to just one score and when they made a lively start to the second half things looked promising.
Gav Painter got the hosts on the board with a penalty after three minutes but 10 minutes later after a knock-on on half way West conceded a needless penalty for kicking the ball away in frustration.
Morpeth took full advantage, driving the ball deep into the 22 and from a series of powerful scrums close to the line, scrum-half Jack Elliot touched down. To add to West’s problems they lost Chris Atkins to the sin-bin in the build-up to the try. Phillips converted for a 14-3 lead.
The incident would typify the afternoon for the home team - they struggled for any continuity in attack but were still scrapping and after a long period of pressure finally got back into the game with a Liam Bailey try from short range after a rolling maul was stopped before the line.
Southern, taking over the kicking duties after Gav Painter left the field with concussion, missed the conversion leaving West seven points down with 10 minutes to play.
Liam Checksfield came off the bench to become the youngest league player for the club but he was unable to inspire a disjointed back-line as West continued to push for the potentially levelling try.
Eventually, as the ball was thrown toward the left-wing Morpeth intercepted inside the 22 and replacement Ben Hornby won the foot race with Aaron Myers to clinch the game. Phillips again converted.
Referee Tom Ferridge from London found plenty of added time and seven minutes in West managed to salvage a bonus point, Myers going over under the posts and Southern converting.
It was small consolation but nothing their efforts hadn’t deserved.
Coach Iain Dixon said: “We looked like we might get the win when we were pressing hard at the end and the interception try was a big blow
“But to be honest we hadn’t worked hard or played enough rugby to have deserved a win.
“Morpeth worked hard for each other and out scrummaged us at times and we just couldn’t raise our game.
“We have two weeks now to our next game and we have to put the effort into training to get back to where we want to be.”
West: Zac Southern, Joe Willis, Greg Edwards, Peter Youll, Scott Butcher, Gavin Painter, Ryan Painter, Jack Angus, Andrew Rollins, Adam Coates, Owen Bennett, Dan Boatman (captain) Liam Bailey, Aaron Myers, Sam Miller.
Changes: Liam Checksfield, Chris Atkins, John Painter.
Tries: Bailey, Myers
Pen: G Painter
YC: Southern, Atkins
Morpeth: Andy Gayner, Callum Lawn, Alex Tait, Will Thornton, Ben Turner, James Phill111ips, Jack Elliott, Liam Carmichael, Carl Hill (captain), Tony Moody, Simon Michie, Karl Campbell, Matt Dawson, Mickey Craigs,Tim Michie.
Changes: Andy Shippen, James Armstrong,Ben Hornby
Tries: Campbell, Elliot, Hornby
Cons: Phillips 3
Referee: Tom Ferridge [London]