Blyth fall agonisingly short in second half comeback

It is an old cliché but Blyth’s 35-31 home defeat to Gateshead was the classic game of two halves.

Gateshead ripping Blyth apart in the first half but the home XV returning the favour in the second with a monumental comeback which fell agonisingly short of a win but gave earned two crucial bonus points.

Gateshead came out of the blocks in scintillating form with their back line in particular looking dangerous every time they got the ball.

And it was no surprise when they scored after only five minutes with full-back Scott Cartner touching down in the corner.

After only ten minutes Blyth found themselves 12-0 down after winger Cameron Wilczech scored a fine try, converted by fly-half Gavin McMurtie.

Up to this point any Blyth possession was wasted by either dropped passes or knock-ons, while Gateshead, on the other hand, looked dangerous every time they had clean ball.

Blyth did manage a good ten-minute spell with ample ball, but Gateshead defended well and soaked up any pressure.

After 25 minutes Gateshead scored their third try through winger Alex Stresjkal, catching a lovely chip over Blyth’s defence by McMurtie at pace to race in from the half way line.

Blyth continued to press with their forwards beginning to get the upper hand, but Gateshead continued to defend well.

From a missed touch by Gateshead, Blyth’s defence allowed the ball to bounce on the hard surface, the ball falling into the hands of winger Wilczech who off-loaded to centre Alex Tilley to score a very fortuitous try.

Worse was to follow when Gateshead stole a ball from Blyth deep into their own 22 and raced away to score another try, this time through centre Martin Heelbeck.

And Blyth found themselves down 29-0 at half-time, when even a bonus point looked well out of reach as they suffered a terrible first half at the hands of the impressive Gateshead.

Director of rugby Darren Cunningham must have said some inspiring things during his half-time team talk because Blyth came out in the second half with all guns blazing and totally dominated a shell-shocked Gateshead in a complete reversal of the first period.

Blyth’s forwards bossed the Gateshead pack which, of course, starved their back line of any ball, and it was no real surprise when Blyth scored a fine try by winger Andy Barker after good work by No.8 Wayne Davie.

This was converted by fly-half Andy Sutherland on 50 minutes.

Sutherland himself then scored in the corner five minutes later to reduce the arrears to 29-12.

By this time Blyth had made some astute tactical substitutions, with Ollie Clark, Steven Long and Nick Fraser being replaced by David Herron, Richard Cole and David Baron.

And it was prop forward Baron in particular who got Blyth going forward with some bullocking runs.

McMurtie kicked a penalty for Gateshead but Blyth remained dominant, and even two yellow cards to forwards Martin Stephenson and Wayne Davie could not halt Blyth’s momentum.

They scored again through Davie to reduce the arrears to 32-19 approaching the final ten minutes.

McMurtie then added another penalty to effectively kill off the game at 35-19, but Blyth had other ideas wit Baron barging over for a deserved try after 75 minutes.

Sutherland converting to reduce the arrears to 35-24.

And with Gateshead in pieces, centre Adrian McKeown scored on full-time to make the final score of a pulsating match 35-31 in Gateshead’s favour.

It is fair to say that if the referee had not blown for time at that point, Blyth probably would have scored another try for an unexpected victory, but fair play to Gateshead, they had a cracking first half which warranted the victory.

Two valuable bonus points ensure Blyth stay in touch with third bottom Ryton, who face Gateshead away this weekend while Blyth face bottom club Sunderland.

Although Blyth are now relying on Gateshead beating Ryton and them overcoming Sunderland, they are determined to fight to the bitter end of what has been a tough season in Durham and Northumberland Division One.

Blyth first XV manager Kevin Barratt said: “We’ve more or less predicted this would be the final week scenario for a while, with us needing to beat Sunderland away on the last game of the season and relying on Ryton losing away to Gateshead next week.

“We’ve done all we can to be able to reach the final game of the season still in with a shout of survival and the lads have shown they are not going to give up their place in this league without a fight.

“As long as it’s mathematically possible to stay up then we’ll fight all the way.

“Obviously Sunderland will be looking at our game as a chance to get a first victory this season and they will be chomping at the bit to get at us next week, and Ryton are also fighting for their lives and will test Gateshead to the limit.

“Obviously I wish Gateshead the best of luck next week.”