Harrogate RUFC’s hopes of overtaking Hull and securing a National Three North promotion play-off spot are all but over following a narrow 21-20 home defeat to Lymm.
A last-minute conversion would have won them the match and kept their hopes of finishing in second place alive, but the kick at goal was off-target, leaving Dave Doherty’s side 13 points off the pace.
The Rudding Lane outfit hold a game in hand and could still acrue 15 points between now and the end of the season, however the odds are stacked against them catching the in-form East Yorkshiremen.
Although not mathematically impossible, Hull - unbeaten in their last 10 league games - would need to lose both of their last two remaining fixtures for ‘Gate to have any chance of closing the gap.
In what was an excitingly close match at the Stratstone Stadium, Lymm attacked and defended well throughout, but Harrogate’s pack dominated, inspired by veteran number eight Tim Heaton in his 200th game.
Both sides tested each other’s defences during the opening exchanges before home full-back Olly Rosillo counter-attacked from deep to set up a promising backs move, only for a knock-on to bring it to an end.
The ‘Gate scrum was in control throughout the match but conceded a 20th-minute free-kick from which Lymm launched a skilful attack and second row Matt Connelly went on to score a try converted by Scott Redfern.
Harrogate quickly countered, forcing the visiting defence to go offside and Luke White’s penalty opened the home account, reducing the arrears at 7-3.
In what was becoming and end-to-end affair, Lymm scored next, their second touchdown starting with a break from the outstanding Redfern who then found number eight Oli Higginson in support to finish.
From the re-start, the home pack set up a well-controlled 30-metre driving maul, but an apparently good ‘try’ was disallowed by the referee.
The incident resulted in Lymm flanker Jacob Ashall being sin-binned but, surprisingly, a penalty try wasn’t awarded.
A Harrogate attacking line-out followed and prop Connor Ward crashed over the whitewash on the stroke of half-time.
White’s attempted touchline conversion went out off an upright and, as the final score shows, this proved to be crucial.
Trailing 14-8, the ‘Gate pack came out for the second period with all guns blazing and continuous pressure led to an Andy Boyde try which was converted by White to put the hosts ahead for the first time at 15-14.
However, Lymm quickly responded and winger Luke Richards finished off a fine passing move, the conversion seeing the visitors go 21-15 up.
Still more dominant Harrogate forward play followed, but Lymm’s well-organised defence held out against wave after wave of attacks and driving mauls.
Eventually, their resistance was broken and replacement hooker Aarin Yorke squirmed over to score out wide to close the gap to just a single point.
A successful conversion would have earned ‘Gate a dramatic and potentially crucial victory, but White’s attempt flew narrowly off target and the final whistle soon followed.