DARLINGTON Mowden Park began a tough month of fixtures with a hardearned 17-13 home win against Sedgley Tigers.
It took them back into second place in National Two North as title rivals Stourbridge and Macclesfield drew 26-26.
There are seven games left and tomorrow’s trip to Chester is another difficult hurdle, which Mowden will have to face without back row star Rory Duff, who made his final appearance on Saturday before leaving to work and play in Australia.
In front of a crowd of 740, Mowden were a little rusty after a three-week lay-off and had to dig deep to overhaul their Manchester-based visitors, who are in fourth place.
After recent hiccups, Sedgley were back to full strength and proved to be the best team to visit The Northern Echo Arena this season.
They were threatening to stretch a 13-10 lead until they missed a penalty midway through the second half and when it came to the crunch Mowden had the greater will to win.
The normally fluent backs found their space closed down and the forwards fell back on the driving maul to set up the winning try.
After kicking a penalty to touch they advanced 20 metres and battered at the line until replacement scrum half Zylon McGaffin nipped over.
He was sent on five minutes before half-time and succeeded in injecting some urgency, while full back Henry Robinson went on for the last 30 minutes for his first appearance for three months.
Mowden found themselves under early pressure and it took a 40-metre run by scrum half A J Smith, from a quickly-taken penalty, to get them on the front foot.
He was rarely able to get any quick ball to the backs, however, other than when fly half Max Connon made a break from a scrum 40 metres out and sent Cameron Mitchell under the posts.
Connon converted, but Sedgley hit straight back when they exploited Mowden’s lack of cover on the right with a speedy attack from halfway.
Quick recycling near the line allowed a centre to go under the posts.
The conversion was followed by a penalty to put the visitors ahead and little was going right for Mowden until Connon kicked a 30-metre penalty to level the scores just before half-time.
But they then made a hash of collecting the restart and conceded a penalty, which was landed to give the visitors a 13-10 interval lead.
Sedgley were again on top at the start of the second half but every time they got close Mowden found a way to keep them out, with back row men Jack Allcock, Guy Van Den Dries and Talite Vaioleti well to the fore.
Meanwhile, Darlington still have a chance of earning the play-off spot in Durham and Northumberland One after winning 35-30 at Gosforth.
Only two points cover the four clubs battling for second place and Darlington are one behind both Blyth and Durham City with a game in hand.
They entertain Consett tomorrow and will hope their pitch has dried as they enjoyed the chance to run around on Gosforth’s artificial surface, once they got used to the awkward bounce.
That was partly responsible for the two early tries Darlington conceded, but they hot back with a brace from prop Joe Hargreaves.
No 8 Colin Rogers played well, but the backs played their part with some good handling and Sam Hardy scored an excellent try.
Mark Baldwin kicked a penalty and conversion and his brother Nick did likewise after going on from the bench.
Stockton forced a deserved draw against a lively Novos side with the last play of a tense game. Jeremy Good kicked three penalties and scrum half Brian Thwaites scampered over wide out, but Novos led 26-14 before Stockton showed great character to fight back. Flanker Tom Nelson scored a try, which Good converted from the touchline, then in the dying seconds returning prop Ben D’Cunha crossed to level the scores.
Bishop Auckland lost 38-20 at home to Gateshead, whose backs ran through at will in the first half to lead 33-3. Bishops changed things around and improved dramatically with No 8 Mike Ross outstanding in a strong performance by the pack.
He scored a try, the others coming from 17-year-old flanker Leon Keirl and 18-year-old Josh Pagan after switching from wing to centre.
Middlesbrough slipped deeper into the mire in North One East when they lost 34-20 away to the only team below them, Sheffield.
Mistakes let the hosts in for two converted tries as they built a 17-3 lead before lock Phil Harland scored for Boro in the 38th minute, converted by Jack Bircham. But Sheffield hit straight back with another try. Winger Adam Nolson gave Boro hope with a try which cut the gap to 22-15, only for Sheffield to score two tries in quick succession.
Centre Richard Metcalfe grabbed Boro’s third.
Northallerton remain in mid-table in Yorkshire Three after losing 29-17 at Thornensians, who are two places above them. North are at home to Hemsworth tomorrow.