North One East
West Hartlepool 19 - 19 Percy Park
In a game sponsored by Marston’s Brewery and two teams willing to throw the ball about a bit you might have expected a game full of spicy, sharp, bright, fresh, zippy, flavours yet what we got was a game that gave us a flat and still beverage with many looking at the bottom of the pint glass feeling very frustrated and muttering ‘was that it’. As in all things fermentable it takes a good brewer to get the recipe right and what we got was a Durham Society referee who served up what can be best described as a glass of flat southern beer despite the best efforts of all the players; and that frustration was felt by all around the Catcote Road Ground.
With a stiff breeze giving ‘West’ a notable first half advantage they were soon off the mark when Will Hilditch crossed after a lineout on the Park ‘5’. A line out resulting from a territorial boot down the field with the ball falling kindly to the Hartlepool player allowing him to nip over and score in the corner. With West looking to take territorial advantage at every opportunity Park found themselves camped in their own ‘22’. This season Percy Park are made of sterner stuff and instead of folding they looked to gain turnover ball at every opportunity and as a consequence procession was gained and full back Toby Davison took off at the gallop running the full length of the field to level the scores.
As the contest developed Park were harshly penalised for crossing allowing the home side a shot at goal. An opportunity that centre Gav Painter was not going to miss. With West in front Percy Park were further punished with flanker Andy McGrath given a yellow card for failing to use his arms in the tackle or was it for a high tackle; either way the card was produced and that seemed to galvanise the Park team who started to impose themselves on the game with some fine broken play rugby. Play that had West team scuttling backwards. Yet it was that trusty breeze that allowed the home side to relieve pressure and regain the territory with two penalty kicks to the corner. A kicking game that enabled West to score a further try that, fortunately for Park, remained unconverted.
For some reason known to the man in the middle a sizable amount of extra time was played at the end of the first half with Park being penalised at any turn and unable to get the ball away from the West players. Following another penalty in their favour a minor scuffle ensued and with the decision reversed Park took a quick tap penalty much to the annoyance of a acclaimed and celebrated Park official. Captain Jonny Dubois kept the ball in hand and through a flurry of passes’ former Captain Michael Langlands took advantage of the broken West defence to show some pace to power over for a try beneath the posts. A score that had the Park support on their feet and a very happy and unchastened Park official acclaiming ‘’well what do I know’’. Certainly the high point of the day on a day that started like any other.
Park playing with the wind and having a notable advantage in the backs the travelling West Dene Drive support were hopeful that Percy Park could cut loose in the second half. What followed was a cagey frustrating affair littered by strange decisions and positional obstructions in midfield and the referee standing in the open channel blocking off the attacking side. Although we had a lot of the territory West appeared to have much of the ball.
With Percy Park arguably trying to make something happen in the game, the ball was ripped from a Park player and the subsequent West possession resulted in a penalty award. And Park found themselves 16-12 down and still chasing the game.
As time was running out Park took to brute force and through a series of strong carries from the forwards enabled a kick to the corner with Phil Morse ending the move with fleet of foot and a short scamper across the line. With Michael Grove converting Park had the lead. With five minutes left on the clock the Park support felt we had enough to hold on for the victory. Then something happened that no one can quite explain. As expected West came onto Park from the kick off and kept the ball in the Park half making assured steps into the North Shields outfits 22. As we know the Park defence is resolute and like the first half they were patient and turned the ball over. A mighty kick from Morse chased by wing Kieron Sutherland appeared to clear the danger. The whistle went and a penalty was awarded to West Hartlepool in front of the posts with Park appearing to be penalised for being in front of the ball. Later the Park support was told that the penalty was awarded as the referee had taken exception to something being said. Never to look a gift horse in the mouth Gav Painter levelled the scores at 19 all.
Yet the game did not finish there. With West pressing for the win what appeared to be a superb try saving tackle was again penalised. Fortunately West elected to kick for the corner and Percy Park were able to clear. As further time was added Park were pressed further into their 22 defending with great discipline. A monster tackle from Man of the Match Austin Phillips resulted in the ball being spilled and what appeared to be a loose ball punted down the field to a collective sigh of relief from the Park support and an audible groan from the West Hartlepool grandstand. Yet they had nothing to fear as the referees whistle was heard and West given a penalty as Park were penalised for kicking the ball through a ruck. From a very kickable position in front of the posts Painter was unable to take advantage pushing his kick wide of the goalpost. The Final score being left at 19 points to 19 in a game both sides could have one and could have lost.
Despite many frustrations Percy Park can be pleased that they have travelled away from home and brought back two points to Preston Avenue. There were some fine individual performances yet collectively is where this team has strength. Park appear to have a grit and determination to succeed this season. Attributes that many have seen to criticise in games gone past. Their collective team spirit is obvious to see and they do have that sparkle that can win games. All bodes well.