Sunderland’s good form took a dramatic dip as they failed to take any points from their away match with third bottom Redcar.
With Redcar battling to stave off relegation, Ashbrooke’s coaching staff had insisted that they would face a tough challenge and a stern test of character as Redcar had started to put together wins in recent high scoring games.
Within 15 minutes of kick off, Farai Chikimbirikie hobbled out of the game, opening the door for a first-team debut for James Savage.
After the restart, Sunderland didn’t respond to the challenge Redcar posed, and at times lacked composure and discipline as they fell behind 12-0.
The first score was a run-in as the backs exploited lacklusture defending and missed tackles. The second as Redcar took Sunderland ball at lineout to then run it in.
Attacking into a very strong wind, Sunderland did create chances.
Harry Price made a great run from the centres, breaking one tackle then rounded the final defender wide on the wing, but he mishandled the ball and knocked on only five yards out.
The pack marched a scrum back in Redcar’s five metre area, their back row broke and their scrum half dropped onto the ball whilst it was still in the scrum for the referee to award a penalty to Redcar.
Sunderland pack were able to push Redcar back, but their No8 relieved pressure well with pick and goes whilst on the back foot.
Sunderland’s half time chat was interrupted by the referee thanking the players for not retaliating which was unusual considering no penalties had been awarded.
With the wind behind them, Sunderland looked to make amends for a poor first-half performance.
Chikimbirikie who had been reintroduced (pushing Savage to wing) took a pass from a Sunderland scrum and weaved his way in from 20 metres out, grounding the ball wide of the posts with nine minutes of the second half played.
However, the next try just did not come. Redcar retained their ball well and Sunderland were not productive when they had possession.
The little momentum that was building was halted as Chikimbirikie was shown yellow, and then captain Joe Arrowsmith, both for infringements at the ruck, forcing Sunderland to play an inordinate period of time with only 13 players.
Redcar played their phases through the pack and pressured Sunderland, scoring their third try on 70 minutes taking their lineout then working a scoring opportunity.
With six minutes to play, the referee allowed Chikimbirikie and Arrowsmith to return to the game, but Sunderland did not manage to add any further points and Redcar took what could be a massive four points in terms of determining which league they start in next season.
Sunderland Second XV lost 19-5 at Ashbrooke in the semi-final of their County Cup against a gritty Winlaton Vulcans.