SUNDERLAND’S Durham and Northumberland Division Two promotion campaign took a major blow on Saturday when they surrendered a 20-point lead in losing 24-23 to table-toppers Ryton.
Despite the loss of both named half-backs prior to kick-off, Sunderland got off to a flier when the ball was spun wide.
Slick handling from Harry Levison and Martin Watt put Matt Goforth through a gap and Goforth glided past the Ryton full-back a scored under the posts. Jake Belfield added the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Playing down the hill, Sunderland took full advantage and Goforth kicked a penalty in front of the posts to extend the advantage.
A long-range Belfield penalty made it 13-0 for the visitors before Martin Watt was the beneficiary of a pushover try from close to the Sunderland line.
Belfield added the conversion to give Sunderland a 20-0 lead.
The spectators might have thought the game was over, but Ryton had other ideas and put Sunderland under pressure for the last ten minutes of the first half.
That pressure told when repeated forward drives saw them breach the Sunderland line to make the score 20-7 at half-time.
After having the better of the first half, Sunderland were straight away under the cosh in the second half when from the kick off Ryton made good ground and put pressure on the Sunderland line.
For 10 minutes, Sunderland held out as Ryton hammered at their line but eventually the pressure told when Ryton scored down the left wing. The conversion made the score 20-14.
A Ryton penalty closed the gap to three points before Sunderland exerted some rare pressure and were able to kick a penalty of their own to open up a six-point lead.
Both sides were hit by injury, with Sunderland’s John Drummond leaving the field with a shoulder problem, Harry Levison with a pulled hamstring and Damion Martinez with an ankle injury – while Ryton’s influential second row was forced off with a serious looking ankle injury.
The final 20 minutes proved to be one-way traffic, with Ryton hammering Sunderland’s line.
The Ashbrooke defence held out gamely and a long-range Ryton penalty was missed – but, with 10 minutes to go, Ryton made a break.
In an attempt to slow their advances, Sunderland captain Peter Caryer was sin-binned for deliberately slowing down the ball.
As Ryton piled on the pressure, Michael Brace was sin-binned for the same offence.
With a two-man advantage, Ryton made it count on 78 minutes as they crashed over from close range to come back to within one point.
The Ryton fly-half had kicked well all day and broke Sunderland hearts with his conversion.