SUNDERLAND weren’t at their best but still managed to grind out a hard-fought 26-9 Durham and Northumberland Division Two victory against a dogged Whitby side.
Despite being behind for most of the game, Sunderland put in a much-improved second half performance to earn the full five points after scoring four tries.
The first half was frustrating for the Ashbrooke side with a combination of solid Whitby defence and poor discipline meaning that the hosts never really got going.
Whitby opened the scoring early on with a penalty and then extended their lead with another penalty a few minutes later.
Tom Townend closed the gap for Sunderland with a penalty of their own, but Whitby re-established a six-point lead with another kick.
That lead could have been nine points but a fourth Whitby penalty hit the woodwork.
It wasn’t until ten minutes before half-time that Sunderland really got going and put some phases together.
It was Bryan Finlay once again that proved the cutting edge. After several phases, he was on the end of some good handling and beat a couple of defenders to score under the posts.
Somehow the kick was missed from straight in front, though, and Sunderland went into half time 9-8 down.
Poor discipline had cost Sunderland in the first half and a concerted effort was made to tighten that up in the second period.
An early Townend penalty from long range made up for the earlier missed conversion and put Sunderland into the lead for the first time.
Sunderland then extended the lead with a well-executed catch and drive that saw Pete Harrison shepherded over the line by his forward pack.
Martin Watt then paid the price for Sunderland’s first half indiscretions as the referee lost patience with Sunderland and sent Watt to the bin for ten minutes after conceding a penalty inside the Sunderland 22.
After Watt’s return, Sunderland upped their game and piled the pressure on Whitby. Some fine handling in the Sunderland back line put Townend away and he raced clear of the Whitby defence to score down the letter wing.
With the game now seemingly won, the only question remaining was whether or not Sunderland would get the four-try bonus point.
Martin Watt emphatically answered that question as he put on his dancing shoes and tiptoed his way through the Whitby defence and claim the full five points.
With Ryton falling at home to Redcar, Sunderland moved into second place in Durham and Northumberland Divison Two and now face a top-of-the-table clash with Whitley Bay Rockliff next week in a game that could go a long way to deciding Sunderland’s fate this season.