Percy Park 29-12 West Hartlepool
Percy Park ,buoyed by a Boxing Day win over their dearest rivals Whitley Bay Rockcliff, took to the field in a must win game against West Hartlepool.
With both teams at the wrong end of the North One East table and with the ‘relegation cloud’ looming on the horizon the result was of paramount importance to both clubs and their supporters. The importance of the contest was shown by the number of supporters from both sides who turned up in numbers to create an expectant yet tense atmosphere. With the fixture being sponsored by North Shields based financial consultants Wade Financial their guests added their encouragement to the home side by attending the game resplendent in black and white outfits. The afternoon was set, yet it was West Hartlepool who started the game the more assured side by pressing Percy Park deep into their defensive zone forcing an error that saw Will Hilditch intercept a poor Park pass to score a relatively easy try. First blood to West.
With the conversion taken the reverse seemed to galvanise Park and with a very partisan vocal support kicked deep into West’s half and to their great credit stayed there for the best part of the first half. West Hartlepool were forced to defend deep and eventually gave way on their 22 when they were penalised at the breakdown. The resultant penalty was taken quickly and back row Jake Smith was over in the corner. With the angle tight, fly half Michael Grove was unable to make the conversion. With confidence restored Park continued to press, moving the ball and sucking in defenders and it was no surprise when centre Phil Morse crossed the line as West ran out of defenders to prevent the score. On this occasion Michael Grove was able to add the conversion.
The importance of the game was not lost on either side and West knew they needed a response. Against the ‘run of play’ West found themselves on the half way line and forced an over eager Park forward to dive illegally into a ruck. The subsequent penalty saw Park defending a line out almost on their 22. With ball secured the West pack ‘mauled’ their way toward the Park line. Despite warnings from the crowd Park were unable to see that they had left ‘the blindside’ undefended, an opportunity that West did not miss with Ryan Painter punishing the poor defensive alignment. Fortunately for Park the conversion was missed.
Positive encouragement could be heard in the Park ranks and at then next scrum Park put on the power and caused disarray within the West forwards. With possession assured Michael Grove was able to take advantage by skipping over the line to set up an easy conversion.
With Park dominant in the forwards the backs were given a platform to work off with Jamie Wrigley, Seb Reece and Toby Davison causing ‘West’ all sorts of problems. And it was Davison finding himself in space forced a ‘try saving’ tackle from a Hartlepool defender. The loose ball was seized upon and Park moved the ball to the opposite wing where Leo Caulfield was able to finish.
A change in the Park scrum saw prop Marc Cook leave the field with a facial injury to be replaced by debutant Aaron Horvath who went onto enjoy a fine game.
On the turn Park had a 12 point lead.
The second half became a game of attrition with most of the game being played between each side’s 22. West had regrouped at half time and had decided to restrict Parks opportunities to run the ball by keeping the ball on the floor and on Wests back foot. Without the ball Park were resolute in defence yet were unable to do anything but absorb what pressure West were able to put them under. Yet that tactic did not aid West Hartlepool as they too were unable to manufacture any clear cut chance to reduce the score and bring themselves into the game. As the half was coming to a close, Park were able to escape and move the ball to the left. A kick ahead saw the ball bounce off a West player and into touch. Park were keen to take a quick throw in only to be brought back by the referee and the linesman. With the West line open the decision did not sit well with the zealous crowd who believed they saw a game ending score go begging. I’m sure the audible groan could be heard on Tynemouth Long sands!! Yet they didn’t have to worry, as from the resultant line out a ‘catch and drive’ saw Park camped on the West 5 metre line. The audible groan had turned to a roar of encouragement where Park’s ‘Famous 5’, who stood behind the defenders goal posts, literally sucked the ball over the West line with second row Josh Hedley being inspired to extend his massive reach to place the ball over the ‘whitewash’ to claim the final score.