Rosslyn Park miss out by the narrowest of margins to lose touch with the Knights
Rosslyn Park lost ground on the leaders of National League One after a nail-biting 19-18 defeat at Blaydon on Saturday.
Alex Codling's men remain second in the table, but they are now eight points adrfit from leaders Doncaster Knights.
The gripping match between two fine sides was every bit as close as the scoreline suggests.
Park started brightly, soon forcing their hosts to concede a penalty, gratefully snapped up by fly half Scott Sneddon for a 3-0 lead in only the third minute.
Clearly stung, Blaydon soon produced some rugged attacks, but were met with a superbly drilled defence and some committed tackling.
If the exchanges were pretty even, then at this stage Park looked the sharper side with ball in hand forcing their hosts to defend well on several occasions.
Here, have this: Ed Lewis Pratt offloads for Park
However, it was the home side that bagged the first converted try after 17 minutes via full-back Simon Barber.
Park were soon back at their hosts, and they forced another penalty, where Sneddon’s kick took his side within a point.
The visitors now enjoyed a clear advantage as Blaydon were forced to display their defensive skills.
An offence at a scrum brought some quick thinking as Park took a quick tap penalty and a move that probably started on the training pitch saw hooker Adam Bellamy crash over with a little help from his friends to finally breach the defence - Sneddon converted for a 13-7 lead on 24 minutes.
With both defences on top that was the score at half-time, but Park had every reason to be optimistic about their prospects in the second half. Blaydon had other ideas.
From the whistle for the second period Blaydon threw everything at the visitors with 15 minutes of sustained pressure.
Catch me if you can: Park’s Jack Dash races for the line... but he was caught
Trailing: A Park attack leaves Blaydon numbers in its wake
Park defended brilliantly with thumping tackle after thumping tackle, but could rarely escape the confines of their own 22.
When Blaydon gained a penalty in front of the posts they spurned the three points to kick for touch and another drive to the line.
A series of five metre scrum re-sets saw Park under immense pressure, but an inspired substitution brought on giant prop Lorne Ward, and Park pushed back to eventually win the ball.
Back came Blaydon to force another penalty, again kicked to touch but this time Park won the lineout ball and scrum half Jack Gash found room to deliver a neat box kick to clear the situation.
However, the kick was fielded by Blaydon winger Tom Jeffrey who ran a superb diagonal, using speed and strength to defy two tackles and score by the posts.
It looked a soft try to concede after successfully defending an all-out siege - Andrew Baggett’s conversion put his side in the lead by 14-13.
The kick off gave Park a chance to establish field position in Blaydon territory, but over-compensation for the stiff wind saw the ball soar out on the full.
Hanging on: Park centre Charles Broughton under pressure
Park were penalised at the resulting scrum, giving Baggett a pot at the posts from halfway.
It was a shot to nothing, falling well short of the posts, but a poor clearance kick gained Blaydon territory again.
Park were penalised at the throw, which allowed Blaydon to again kick to the corner.
Park did well to win the throw, but a fluke of a ricochet behind the line allowed replacement Fran Entressengle to drop on the ball and claim a try.
Greatly to their credit, at 13-19 Park really got their heads down to rescue the match in the 18 minutes remaining.
They drove Blaydon off their own ball at a scrum and several promising runs, notably Jack Gash nearly reaching the line, met with obdurate defence before debutant winger Tom Howe got the ball close to half way and blitzed the defence to score wide to the right of the posts.
With five minutes left, Sneddon’s conversion attempt – difficult without the wind – would decide the match.
It looked good at first, but was blown harmlessly off course.
Park found the wherewithal to return to the attack, and had regained a good position in the Blaydon 22 when a handling error under pressure allowed the referee to blow for time.
Park: Lewis-Pratt; Howe, Broughton (Hodgkinson), Staff, Vincent; Sneddon; Gash; Lundberg (Ward), Bellamy, Liffchak; Inglis, Boyle; Baldwin (Ball), Shires, Ellis.
Subs (not used): Cobb, Bowley.
Two to stop him: Park’s Tom Baldwin under pressure
Over: Tom Howe scores Park’s second try