WITH 12 games left in their 30-match National Two North programme, Darlington Mowden Park leapt into top spot on Saturday, when they won 38-20 at home to Harrogate.
Macclesfield, who had led all season, let slip a 19-5 lead at home to Sedgley Park and lost 23-19 to fall two points behind Mowden.
With a trip to bottom club Dudley Kingswinford, who have lost all 18 games, coming up tomorrow Mowden will have the opportunity to rest some players and give opportunities to fringe members of the squad.
With prop Josh Bayford suspended for another week, there might have been cause for alarm when Henry Sandys limped off after 15 minutes.
But Ben Simpson went on and helped to maintain the forward domination which allowed Mowden to overturn an early 14-0 deficit.
The other prop, Ralph Appleby, did more than his share of tackling in an outstanding all-round performance.
Star fly half Grant Connon is unlikely to play again this season because of the injury he suffered in the win against Stourbridge on November 30, when full back Henry Robinson and flanker Liam Riley were also injured.
Max Connon had deputised at full back, but Chris McTurk was tried there on Saturday to accommodate former Premiership winger Mike Wood, making his second appearance of the season.
Most of the traffic went the other way, allowing Shaun McCartney to score two tries on the left wing, which resulted from slick handling.
Harrogate proved a mobile side and were better than their league position suggests, perhaps lifted by playing on a good surface at The Northern Echo Arena in front of almost 700 fans.
They were competing well in an entertaining game at 26-20 midway through the second half when they opted to put a very kickable penalty into the corner. They almost got over, but Mowden’s close range defence proved very strong after they leaked two early tries from around halfway.
They had no possession for the first five minutes, but although Harrogate kept recycling the ball they weren’t threatening to go anywhere and opened the scoring when Mowden’s first attack broke down.
Winger Stephan Parsons intercepted and raced to the posts and two minutes later centre Kyle Dench dummied his way and out-stripped the defence.
Mowden hit straight back through McCartney’s first try but fly half Gavin Painter scuffed the conversion. He landed four of the other five, starting when the forwards drove to the line and hooker Ross Doneghan burrowed over.
A penalty was conceded on the restart for Harrogate to stretch their lead to 17-12 and it took until the 40th minute for Mowden to go ahead.
In a move going left Appleby rode a tackle and slipped an inside pass to flanker Anthony Harrison, who romped over from the 22.
The conversion made it 19-17 and four minutes after the break skipper Cameron Mitchell intercepted just inside his own half and cruised away to score.
A penalty kept Harrogate in contention, but with 15 minutes left Mowden kicked a penalty to the corner and, with the driving maul working well, Appleby touched down.
Good handling in added time allowed McCartney to complete the scoring.
Darlington also boosted their promotion hopes in Durham and Northumberland One when they won 21-19 at home to leaders Horden, for whom Andrew Turner missed a difficult last-minute penalty.
Darlington had five players back from injury – lock Chris Anderson, flanker Kevin Gilroy, centres Alex Lineton and Andy Pugh, plus full back Dan Carter. Adam Gardner switched to fly half and Sam Hardy to the wing.
Mark Bladwin kicked three penalties but the visiting backs scored two good tries for a 12-9 interval lead before winger Andy Robinson finished a fine move by Darlington.
Horden went back in front with another try, but the scoring was completed after 54 minutes when Gilroy scored from close range and Baldwin added the crucial conversion.
Darlington are away to Medicals tomorrow.
Darlington remain four points behind Horden in third place, just behind Durham City, who took a 17-0 lead inside ten minutes on the way to a 22-12 home win against Stockton.
The young Stockton side, showing nine changes, battled valiantly to stay in the game and scored tries through prop Stuart Barrass and full back Danny Phinn.
Despite a first senior try for 18-year-old flanker Leon Keirle, Bishop Auckland fell deeper into relegation trouble when they lost 57-27 at Gosforth. Bishops’ other tries came from Mark Clement, Andrew Brabban and Ratu Nareki, while Tim Tombling kicked two conversions and a penalty.
Middlesbrough crashed to a 43-12 home defeat by Huddersfield YMCA to slip to second bottom in North One East.
Boro lacked any attacking threat in the first half and conceded six tries to trail 36-0.
Half-time brought a transformation and after two minutes hooker Ashley Kearney scored, quickly followed by a try for lock Phil Harland.
Further chances were squandered before YMCA scored again at the death.
Northallerton fell to a controversial 16-7 defeat at Rotherham Phoenix when victory would have taken them above their hosts in Yorkshire Three.
It was 9-7 at half-time and neither team looking like adding to the score until ten minutes from time, when Rotherham’s scrum half took a quick tap penalty from the wrong spot.
The ball was quickly offloaded for the supporting forwards, who managed to force their way over the line for the decisive score.
Joe Terry, in his first outing in a month, kept North in the game through consistently accurate kicking and passing, plus plenty of tackling.
He provided the highlight of the first half with a 40-yard cross-field kick that was collected on the full by winger Greg Aspin, who raced away to score under the posts for Dan Luck to convert.
The home team kicked three penalties due to ill-discipline in rucks and mauls, but were otherwise kept out by excellent defending from Martin Connor and James Hopkins.
North are at home to Aireborough tomorrow, while the seconds are due to entertain Acklam after a 17-12 defeat at Billingham.
They trailed 17-0 at halftime but after a rousing pep talk from captain Paul Dennison they improved greatly and scored tries through Jack Radcliffe and Andy Ryder, plus a conversion from Brian Tucker.
There was another good performance from Chris Macaneany, who must be close to a first team call up.
The thirds won 20-13 at home to Redcar seconds, twice coming from behind with tries by Adam Massey, Matt Wheeler and Gareth Norton. Man of the match, 17-year-old Jed Bainbridge, converted one try and kicked a penalty.
The thirds travel to Acklam tomorrow hoping for a hattrick of victories for the first time in over three seasons.