Despite holding the lead for long periods of their National Three North contest with Hull, Harrogate RUFC suffered a controversial defeat after conceding a late try.
Dave Doherty’s men claimed the ascendancy early on and despite a fightback from the visitors, got their noses back in front only to surrender possession in midfield with just a couple of minutes remaining, gifting Lee Birch a decisive touchdown.
The try shouldn’t have made any difference to the result of the match as, but for referee Mr Owen Taylor, ‘Gate would have held a 23-15 advantage when Birch got his hands on the ball.
However, despite the most obvious of knock-ons, the man in the middle had earlier allowed a score by Tomasi Tanumi to stand, a mistake that was eventually to prove costly for the Aces.
From the kick-off at the recently re-named Stratstone Stadium, Harrogate number eight Tim Heaton ran strongly to set up an attack.
Hull went offside and Luke White’s penalty opened the home account.
An incisive White break set up further forward momentum and some powerful scrummaging forced the visitors to concede a penalty.
An attacking line-out then led to a 30-metre driving maul, from which Jonny Coser registered the game’s opening try, putting ‘Gate 8-0 up.
The Aces were then penalised at a Hull driving maul and Steve Johnson’s kick closed the gap at 8-3.
The ‘Gate pack dominated the set-pieces for the next 20 minutes, with front row forwards Charley Purkiss-McEndoo, Steve Maycock and Connor Ward in control of the scrum.
Jonny Coser and Sam Brady won consistent line-out ball with Tom Harvey, Guy Coser and Heaton providing plenty of oomph all over the park.
Centres Noel Minikin and Luke Edwards made a number of telling breaks but, all too often, failed to make the final pass to their support.
On the half-hour, the hosts were made to pay for this when Hull winger Stephen Hihetah ran strongly to take advantage of a defensive lapse and his converted try put the away team 10-8 ahead.
Harrogate responded with a succession of driving mauls from which Hull were repeatedly penalised until a penalty try was awarded and converted.
More Harrogate pressure then forced Hull into conceding another penalty and White’s kick made the score 18-10.
Doherty’s troops should have taken this healthy advantage into half-time, but just before the break, full-back Birch burst through an attempted tackle to score in the corner, trimming the gap to three points at 18-15.
Hull’s second-half re-start kick went straight into touch and another dominant Harrogate scrum saw them take control.
Waves of home attacks followed, but a handling error right on the try-line denied them a touchdown.
The visitors looked to respond through Birch, but his counter-attack was ended by a superb Danny Matthews interception in his 100th game for Harrogate.
An injury to Hull prop Ben Boothman then led to him being substituted and this changed the pattern of the game.
Boothman had been having a torrid time up front but his replacement, Michael Jobling, proved to be a more capable scrummager and offered his side some stability in an area of the contest that Harrogate had previously had pretty much all their own way.
A fine Minikin tackle ended a Hull attack, but they regained possession and, despite a huge knock-on, Tanumi was allowed to keep running and a converted try that ‘Gate will feel should not have been allowed to stand saw the away team seize a 22-18 advantage.
Undeterred by this perceived injustice, the home pack again took control in the loose and another 30-metre driving maul ended with Brady’s touchdown restoring the Aces’ lead.
However, the outstanding Birch was to have the final say, snatching the points for Hull in the closing stages after the ball was needlessly given away in midfield.