Morpeth 18 Billingham 23 North One East
MORPETH left it too late to beat league leaders Billingham as the minutes ticked away at Grange House Field.
The home side had established a forward dominance that looked like they were destined to snatch a close-fought victory but the Teessiders toughed it out.
Three tries out wide by winger Craig Shepherd exposed Morpeth’s tackling deficiency and positional naivety in the backs deprived of the injured Mooney, Manley, Lynn, Wilkinson and the Hills brothers.
The loss of Anthony Watson with a dislocated collarbone after 20 minutes didn’t help things either.
Matt Jinks pulled back six points with a couple of penalties (but was off target with two other attempts) to make it 15-6 at the interval.
The second-half approach of keeping the ball tight and among the forwards started to deny Billingham the ample possession they had enjoyed in the early stages, forcing them to defend their line desperately.
Captain Joe Forsythe and the hard-grafting Rory Morrison led the charge with some battering runs but a lapse of concentration resulted in Morpeth losing ground and they were punished with a try by second row Craig Tennant.
However, Morpeth turned on the forward pressure again and Ben Bell crashed over to score from a fearsome rolling maul. Jinks failed with the conversion attempt. They deployed the same tactic again five minutes later with Scott Ramsay bursting through to touch down and Jinks added the two extra points.
A couple of bone-shuddering tackles by Richie Stephenson stopped they visitors breaking through in the centre.
But Morpeth’s fate was eventually sealed when Billingham full back Paul Evans finally found his kicking boots and scored a penalty after missing his four conversion efforts.
The next two matches away to Gateshead and Northern are vital for Morpeth not to slip towards the foot of the league table. The powerful contribution of Liam Carmichael will be sorely missed while he spends the next six months in Australia.