Durham & Northumberland, Division One
ALNWICK put in a cracking team performance at Stockton to replace them at second place in the league.
They defended strongly in the opening half when the home side had the advantage of slope and wind, restricting them to only a six-point advantage at half-time.
Tackles went in hard, with great support to drive Stockton away from where they camped on the Alnwick five-metre line.
Stockton hammered away but could not find a way through. Both teams conceded early penalties with Stockton going ahead after 10 minutes when Goode goaled a penalty (3-0).
Alnwick stormed back following a pounding run from James Bird. Stockton were penalised but the kick was pushed wide.
Alnwick regained the restart and swept into the Stockton 22 through Ian Gray and Nathan O’Grady.
In the forward exchanges, prop Bob Boothman was flattened and had to be replaced by Dave Hamblin.
Alnwick could not break away from the home defence and despite getting into the Stockton 22 found themselves penalised and driven back deep into their own half, where they were hammered hard.
Finally, another Goode penalty extended the Stockton lead to six points (6-0).
Play was taken end-to-end. A promising break from Ali Gray and Andy Shell saw them threaten to go through.
Again ground was lost when the forwards were caught offside. A long kick into the Alnwick five-metre line had the visitors defending strongly to the end of the opening half.
Alnwick now had the advantage of wind, slope and a low sun. An O’Grady kick through saw the Alnwick forwards sweep the Stockton pack back. The ball was squeezed out, catching the Stockton scrum-half out of position. Richard Ellis picked up to drive through unopposed from 30 metres to gain the touchdown at the post to give Bird an easy conversion to put Alnwick into the lead (6-7).
Three minutes later, Alnwick extended their lead after Stockton pushed back from the restart into the visitors’ half. But they were penalised for tripping and O’Grady hammered the ball to the centre-line for Alnwick to gain good ball from the line-out. A cracking catch-and-drive pulled in the Stockton cover.
Alnwick swept the ball out into their three-quarters and a final lobbed pass put Andy Shell clear of the Stockton full-back to streak over for a try at the flag, not added to with goal points (6-12).
Play became a bit scrappy, not helped by some fussy instructions from the referee.
Stockton hammered their way forward to camp on the Alnwick try-line and repeatedly threatened to drive over.
They were thrown back time and time again until Alnwick had a forward sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes.
This gave the Stockton pack a great advantage to rumble over for a push-over try through their number eight Powell. The attempt at the conversion saw the ball driven straight along the ground (11-12).
Only a point separated the teams. Stockton again used the extra man in the scrum to try desperately to get through the Alnwick defence. But the tackles went in hard, holding up the Stockton ball-carrier as the try-line got ever closer. Finally, Alnwick wrestled the ball out to Ian Gray and back to O’Grady, who hoisted a high ball that had the Stockton full-back under pressure.
Alnwick’s fast-running three-quarters were onto him with forward support. The ball went out along the three-quarters to Graeme Potts, whose powerful drive took him through the Stockton wing for a superb unconverted try (11-17).
Three minutes later, this was added to when Alnwick ran the Stockton players off their feet, a surging forward play was to set up an opening, a big hole opened in the Stockton defence which saw Stuart Gray break through for the final try, with goal points being added by James Bird (11-24).
Stockton were denied the promotion points that they were hoping for, Alnwick’s team work was of the highest order and now puts them into a promising second place in the league. But there are further hard matches ahead. It was a cracking game with Alnwick running out worthy winners.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell, A Gray, F Hutchinson, G Potts, N O’Gray, I Gray, P Brown, H Sordy, B Boothman, A Alexander, D Oliver, G Smith, J Hamilton, S Ellis, D Hamblin, S Gray, Ed Shell.