SUNDERLAND maintained their second position in Durham and Northumberland Division Two with a 24-22 win at Seaton Carew on Saturday – but they very nearly threw it all away.
The game seemed to be in the bag until a late score from the hosts, but Sunderland held out to seal victory.
Sunderland made a promising start but it was the Hartlepool outfit who drew first blood when they turned over possession and evaded the Ashbrooke midfield tacklers and raced half the length of the field to take a 5-0 lead.
Sunderland responded well and dominated possession in the Seaton half, but the home side’s defence proved a tough nut to crack.
Sunderland were frustrated by the constant slowing down of the ball, often illegally, by the Seaton tacklers which meant they found it difficult to get through the phases. But they persevered and, after repeated penalties, the referee eventually went for the yellow card and sent the Seaton prop to the sin bin.
The visitors took full advantage and following a series of drives by the forwards close to the Seaton line, Pete Harrison found himself with his hands on the ball and he burrowed over the try line to pull Sunderland level at 5-5.
Bryan Finlay then pounced on a loose ball and found half a yard of space to burst clear and score a second try under the posts. Jake Belfield added the conversion to make it 12-5.
Despite Seaton being restored to their full complement, Sunderland kept up the pressure with their pack dominating both at the set-piece and in the loose.
That pressure led to Sunderland’s third try as Belfield broke through two tacklers and outpaced the covering defence to score under the posts. Belfield added the conversion to mnake it 17-5 at half-time.
The second half proved to be a frustrating affair. First, Sammy Vaughan was sin-binned early on for an infringement at the ruck in the Seaton Carew 22.
The decision seemed particularly harsh given that it was Sunderland’s first infringement for that offence.
While Vaughan was off the pitch, Seaton cut the lead when they rumbled over from close range. The missed conversion made it 17-10.
With Vaughan restored to the field, Sunderland went on the offensive and a half break by Harry Levinson was halted by a Seaton tackler. Levinson managed to offload to Martin Watt, who went over for Sunderland’s bonus point try.
As the clock ticked down, it looked as though Sunderland’s 14-point lead would give them a comfortable win but Seaton had other ideas and battered the visitors’ line.
And with four minutes to go, Seaton crossed the line, but missed the conversion – and that would prove crucial.
From the restart, Sunderland were adjudged off-side, giving Seaton a free-kick on the half-way line. They made their way into the Sunderland 22 but knocked on just five metres short. Sunderland’s scrum had dominated all day so it should have been straight forward for them to clear their lines, but the ball went loose and scrum-half Vaughan was forced to take the ball over his own line under pressure from two Seaton tacklers.
Despite Sunderland’s insistence that Vaughan grounded the ball, the referee adjudged that the Seaton tacklers had stolen the ball and awarded a try.
The succesful conversion meant that it would be a tense last minute with only a penalty or drop goal seperating the sides.
Sunderland held out though and when Tom Townend won a penalty on the half-way line, Sunderland were able to kick the ball to touch and claim their five points.
Sunderland seconds made their longest journey of the season when they travelled to Berwick and won a scrappy game 12-10. Clive Fish and Colin Wallace scored the Wearsiders’ tries.