WHILE Middlesbrough can field more teams than West Hartlepool they are unable to match them at first team level and are in danger of being at least one division lower next season.
Boro are slipping closer to relegation in North One East, while West look likely to battle it out with Huddersfield YMCA for the promotion playoff place.
They will hope for a favour from Boro this week when YMCA visit Acklam Park, but Boro will need to find some inspiration after slipping to third from the bottom.
West have been unable to put out a second team on occasions this season, which is indicative of the game’s decline in the former Hartlepool hotbed.
Like their visitors, however, they can point to several recent products now playing at a higher level.
Boro have another one in the making as centre Ben Stevenson has just become their fourth player in three years to make the England Under 16 squad.
Among West’s current talented youngsters is Stu Waites, who was switched from fly half to his old position of full back in the absence of Colin Cheslin and included a fine individual try in his 13 points.
All the points came in the first half and there was no way back for Boro in worsening, gloomy conditions with handling becoming increasingly difficult.
As in the home defeat by Wheatley Hills before Christmas, Middlesbrough defended well, especially when West were trying to make their pressure count from close range.
Boro started brightly, attacking from the kick-off and earning a penalty, which slid past the left post. But they were on the back foot for the rest of the half.
Waites’ first penalty attempt came back off a post, and it took until the 23rd minute for West’s pressure to be rewarded when the full back found the target.
After a penalty-strewn opening quarter Boro flanker Tom Fox was sin-binned and after battling to stay in the game the visitors quickly found they were out of it.
Waites struck again on the half hour, then scored the first of two tries in five minutes.
He collected a clearance kick, chipped over the advancing defence, re-gathered and made ground up the left wing before kicking ahead again and winning the race to the line.
For the second try the Boro defence failed to deal with a kick and the ball was hacked on for flanker Jonny Boatman to touch down. Waites added the conversion to complete the scoring.
Boro continued to defend well and almost scored a try in the closing stages, only to be brought back for a foot in touch.
For them there was to be no light in the gloom.