A SECOND successive defeat for Darlington Mowden Park has left them 12 points adrift of the National Two North promotion play-off place they were hoping to occupy.
They lost 17-6 at Luctonians when they failed to get going in three inches of Herefordshire mud, which was a massive change from The Northern Echo Arena, where they face bottom club Huddersfield tomorrow.
Darlington have another tough game at Morpeth following their 53-12 defeat at Malton and Norton, where they had to make several late changes and their early season defensive frailties returned.
Mowden should be able to recall Guy Van Den Dries tomorrow after Leeds University commitments ruled him out last week. His absence, coupled with Henry Forbes joining Andy Wilson on the casualty list, meant they were short in the second row.
Although skipper Junior Fagalilo was fit to resume, Mowden opted to start him on the bench, switching Dan Miller to hooker to give a chance to young prop Ben Simpson.
It meant they had four teenagers in the pack, including Liam Riley making his first start of the season at blind side.
In the conditions, it was asking a lot of youngsters to compete against a big, firedup Luctonians pack, who got stuck in from the outset.
Because the match involved a round trip of 470 miles, Mowden travelled the evening before. But they still looked jaded.
The loss of possession at the base of the scrum allowed a turnover in favour of the home side, who moved the ball out for the full back to score and converted from wide out.
With Zylon McGaffin and Cameron Mitchell threatening there were hints that the Mowden back line might show their paces. But it never quite happened, although they did try to burst into life in the second half after Tom Hodgson kicked two penalties to reduce the gap to 7-6 at half-time.
Fagalilo went on for the second half, but Luctonians increased in confidence as the match progressed and added another converted try, which was awarded beneath a pile of bodies after they rucked and mauled to the line.
A late penalty completed the scoring and the victory was greeted with jubilation by the home side and their supporters.
Darlington conceded two tries in the first three minutes at Malton, who took advantage of weak tackling to score all their tries from long range. A centre broke two tackles to score the first and straight from the restart a winger ran in from halfway.
It was 31-0 before Darlington replied. The only area where they troubled their hosts was at the line-out and forward drives set up both their tries, scored by Matt Sowerby and David Mackfall.
Mark Baldwin added a conversion In their first home game since the new year, Northallerton beat Rotherham Phoenix 21-16 in a hard-fought encounter.
North pressured the Rotherham line from the kick-off and the forwards were unlucky not to open the scoring with a pushover try from a five-metre scrum.
When they did open their account it was from just inside the visitors’ half, fly half Joe Terry throwing a long pass to John Franks, who combined with Doug Mulholland to outflank the defence. Franks scored the try and Dan Luck converted.
Rotherham responded quickly to level the scores, but from the restart Franks kicked the ball back, got to it first and chipped ahead before picking up the ball on the five-metre line to run in his second try.
Rotherham capitalised on some North indiscipline to kick two penalties to move a point ahead and they extended their lead early in the second half with another penalty.
North were spurred into action and camped in the Rotherham half for the rest of the game. A penalty by Luck reduced the gap to one point then flanker Don Stone scored the winning try when he emerged with the ball after a driving maul.
The seconds lost 29-5 at Sandal thirds, scoring a consolation try through veteran flanker Duncan Harris.