SUNDERLAND Harriers were on course for their best result since 2008 at the Northern Athletics 12-stage Road Relay Championship at Liverpool, when disaster struck on the 11th leg on Saturday.
The Wearsiders were hovering around top-10 spot and a place in the National Final at Sutton Coldfield before Tony Noble went off course at the tail end of the 42-mile relay.
We are gutted that we were caught up with it and all the lads in the team are really disappointed that their performances will now count for nothing.
He had followed leaders Liverpool, who had just lapped him, before the Merseysiders took the wrong turning, leading clubs immediately behind them down the wrong road.
Noble ended behind the finishing area to the gasps of his clubmates, who were waiting to cheer him on in the home straight.
He had run about three minutes longer than he should have and the race referee had no choice but to disqualify the team.
Club captain Dave Savage said: “It was a bizarre situation, as Liverpool were the host club.
“You would have thought their team would know the course inside out.
“They were miles in front and they have lost the championship through an incident like this.
“We are gutted that we were caught up with it and all the lads in the team are really disappointed that their performances will now count for nothing.
“Tony felt really down about it, but it was not really his fault.
“The lads said there was no marshal at that point on the course.”
Sunderland’s times were: Long legs 5.8 miles – Nathan Reed 24min 41sec, Kevin Jeffress 25.01, Craig Isherwood 25.03, Andy Powell 25.38.
Short legs: 5.8 miles – Michael Wilson 12.16, John Morley 12.27, Steve Rankin 12.28, Steve McMahon 12.41, Matthew Fearn 13.30, Mathew Knowles 16.07. Tony Noble and Ian Dixon’s times were not recorded.
Leeds took advantage of the Liverpool mishap to win the relay in 3.11.10 with Morpeth second (3.12.07) and Salford third 3.12.42.
Gateshead were sixth (3.21.49) and Tyne Bridge tenth (3.26.15).
The fastest legs were by Liverpool’s Daniel Cliffe with 22.34, and Altrincham’s Mohammed AbuRezeq’s (11.16).
The fastest North East legs were from Morpeth’s 44-year-old Ian Hudspith (23.04) and Gateshead’s Chris Parr (11.27)
In the women’s six-stage relay, Morpeth’s Olympian Laura Weightman sliced through the field on the third leg to charge through from 17th to fifth with the day’s fast time (12.19).
But her Morpeth team finished outside of the medals in seventh.
Leeds made it a double gold championship with victory in 1.47.20.
Stockport were second (151.41) and Rotherham third (1.51.54). Jarrow ran well for fourth place (1.55.57). Claire Simpson (14.16) and Alex Sneddon (27.53) were the club’s fastest runners.
Despite strong winds, Sarah Tunstall broke the women’s course record to win the £100 bonus in the Hartlepool Marina five-mile road race yesterday.
The Kendal runner dipped under the 30-minute benchmark with her winning time of 29.08 in a record field of more than 500 runners.
Seaham’s Louise Rodgers was fourth woman (31.26), Sunderland Harrier Michelle Avery was sixth (32.42) and her clubmate, Jessica Fox, was first under-20 in 15th (34.11).
Houghton Harrier Kelly Bentley was second over-50 in 17th (34.37).
Middlesbrough’s Gregory Jayasuriya won the race in 25.56. Sunderland Strollers placed Aidan Crowe in 16th (28.50), Tim Allsop 33rd (29.45), Declan Munnelly 45th (30.40), Mike Hobson 53rd (31.00) and Ritchie Gerry 55th (31.06).
Sunderland Harriers to make the first 100 were: Alan Knebel 42nd (30.28), Tony Allinson 69th (32.01), Alex Mitchell 75th (32.25), Dean Phillips 85th (33.05), Shaun Bagley 86th (33.05) and James Johnson 95th (33.33).
Tony Allinson, James Johnson and Alan McManus (140th 36.31) won the North East Masters over-35 team race.