Fine margins in attack and lapses in defensive concentration cost Sunderland in a narrow 20-15 defeat to Whitley Bay Rockcliff at Ashbrooke on Saturday.
Victory kept up Rockcliff’s promotion ambitions in Durham Northumberland One.
Gabe Fearon was called into Sunderland’s side just before the warm-up commenced as winger Harry Connell had been struck down with a mystery vomiting bug. With little to separate the sides throughout, mid-table Sunderland started the brighter of the two.
Following forward phases, quick ball through hands allowed outside centre Marc Edmundson enough space to weave between Rockcliff’s centre and winger, then round the full-back to score out wide right. Brad Fish narrowly missed the resulting conversion.
Within a minute, Rockcliff scored as Sunderland failed to deal with a speculative grubber kick allowing a chasing visiting player to win the foot race and touch down out wide on the right.
On 17 minutes, Rockcliff took advantage of an overlap to stretch their lead to 10-5 with a second unconverted try.
Both sides had good spells of possession, with Rockcliff showing some good continuity and offloads to supporting players, testing Sunderland’s tackling abilities, while the hosts worked ball into space but did not take advantage of their overlaps.
Luke Victory constantly drove Sunderland forward and provided positive encouragement to his team-mates throughout. On 33 minutes, Rockcliff went 17-5 up as a few tackles were missed, allowing the visitors the space to power through for a converted try.
Shortly before half-time, Fish slotted a penalty wide left to reduce the deficit to nine points.
A change of hooker saw James Fraser replace Grant Edmundson for the second half, and within two minutes Fearon replaced full-back Ben Hodgson, who gad been struggling from the kick-off with a groin injury.
Scrum-half Fish and flankers Joe Arrowsmith and Gerard Harford continued to disrupt and tackle well, forcing a series of turnovers in the home side’s favour.
As the half progressed, Sunderland enjoyed a spell of possession as they worked the ball through the middle, with Peter Harrison’s link pass to winger Harry Price falling agonisingly wide.
On 61 minutes, after several forward phases, Arrowsmith buried his way under Rockcliff defenders to score out wide on the left, with Fish converting. Hugo Fairlie and Andrew Wordsworth secured collected good lineout ball throughout, but Sunderland did not capitalise from driving mauls.
A final penalty from Fish on 61 minutes brought the score to 20-15, making for a tense finish, compounded by the sin-binning of Harford on 70 minutes as he reacted to a Rockcliff kick to a grounded team-mate, but the visitors held on.
Sunderland chairman Paul Geehan said: “Overall, we played well, but Rockcliff worked a little harder.
“On a positive note, Luke Victory has put in two outstanding performances in the last two games.”