BLYTH were determined to put the previous week’s disappointing cup defeat behind them and get back to league rugby with the business end of the season now upon them when they entertained Ponteland on Saturday.
A victory was important, but after a lacklustre display Blyth came away with two bonus points which could, in fairness, be the two points which ensures survival after Ponteland took the spoils in a closely contested game.
On a perfect day for rugby, with Blyth’s Plessey Road ground in fairly good condition considering the recent poor weather, it was Ponteland who were quickest off the mark with a try after only four minutes when a massive overlap ensured an easy score in the centres.
Worse was to follow as almost immediately with centre Graeme Sutherland and winger Adrian McKeown leaving the field with a knee injury and hamstring pull respectively.
Subs Wayne Dobson and Ian MacKenzie were introduced. Back row Dean Langdown switched to centre with Dobson slotting into the pack and MacKenzie coming into the winger’s berth.
Ponteland continued with plenty of possession and with Blyth defending far too narrowly, the visiting backs looked dangerous throughout, and without some last ditch tackling by centre James Bostock Blyth could have found themselves two or three tries in arrears.
This continued to be the theme of most of the first half with Ponteland exposing Blyth’s fragile and disjointed defence.
Missed tackles was the order of the day and there was a distinct lack of spark or effort in the first half.
Blyth did eventually get some possession and after Ponteland gave away successive penalties under pressure from forward drives, a kickable penalty was overlooked in favour of a lineout on the Ponteland five-metre line.
This gamble paid off as, after a good catch and drive, hooker Martin Stephenson burrowed his way over for a try on 35 minutes, skipper and scrum-half Tony Smithson hitting the post with the conversion meant the scores were 5 -5 approaching half-time.
Blyth’s defensive woes continued when Ponteland scored almost from the resulting kick-off with more sloppy defence allowing a simple conversion to take the half-time score to 5-12.
This was as poor a half as Blyth have played all season and director of rugby Darren Cunningham had some harsh words to say, which must have galvanised Blyth as their second half performance was much better although still far from their best.
Ponteland again started the half the brightest and scored early with a try similar to their first, which was converted for a 5-19 lead.
Blyth needed a big effort at this point to get back into the game and veteran hooker Kevin Barratt replaced Stephenson on 45 minutes and Blyth’s forwards began to get the upper hand on their opponents.
Another kickable penalty was turned down for a kick to the corner and this again paid dividends as giant blindside Dave Baxter forced his way over from another good catch and drive.
This time Smithson’s conversion was successful, taking the score to 12-19.
Blyth were now well on top of their opponents but still not anywhere near their fluent best and levelled the score at 19-19 when centre Dean Langdown backed himself and managed to touch down near the corner after heavy pressure from the Blyth pack.
The difficult conversion was successful from Smithson.
Ponteland hit back on 60 minutes with a simple penalty in front of the posts to take a 19-22 lead.
Cunningam made the most use of his substitute options with both props, David Baron and Michael Barber, interchanging with Stephenson returning to the field.
Ponteland managed another try through their forwards with their wing forward scoring, and with the successful conversion took a lead of 19-29 approaching the final ten minutes.
Blyth knew they had to score at least a penalty to get a bonus point and it was they who dominated the rest of the game.
Once again the Blyth forwards forced Ponteland into giving away penalties and skipper Smithson again, to his credit, ignored pleas from the touchline to kick the penalty goal, kicked to the corner for lineout.
It was after a bombardment on the Ponteland line that Baxter eventually barged over under the posts for his second try, and with the simple conversion kicked referee Graeme Crozier blew his whistle to end the game at 26-29 to Ponteland.
On the plus side, Blyth picked up two bonus points, however, they were way off their best with regards to performance, and whilst Ponteland should be credited for their victory, they deserved it, Blyth could have won this game quite easily if they played anywhere near their potential.
Some hard work on the training paddock is required and two difficult away games to Stockton and Gosforth will test their resolve and determination to succeed.
Man of match Dave Baxter.