Harrogate RUFC re-ignited their fading promotion when they beat fellow North premier high-flyers Blaydon at the Stratstone Stadium.
With runaway leaders Hull already well out of sight, Dave Doherty’s side’s only realistic hope of a return to National Two North is to finish second, in the division’s one play-off berth.
A narrow defeat at Wirral last time out left fourth-placed ‘Gate well off the pace and looked to have put paid to any hopes of claiming the runners-up spot, however Saturday’s win means they are nine points shy of where they need to be with nine fixtures still to play.
The Aces’ 2018/19 campaign has been one blighted by injury, and they were once again without a number of key personnel for the visit of Blaydon, however they produced a fine performance and were in control throughout.
The visiting line-out came under early pressure as Sam Brady, Martin Dodds and Jonny Coser stole a succession of their throws.
Quickly-spread ball led to Andrew Lawson touching down, but referee Elliott Lewis called play back for an earlier technical offence.
Powerful forward drives continued the home pressure and dynamic young flanker Hugo Tasker became the second home player to make it over the whitewash, though this ‘try’ was also disallowed.
The ‘Gate pressure had to tell, however, and it eventually did.
Another well-controlled driving maul led to Jonny Coser going over for a score converted by Nathan Wyman.
The re-start took Blaydon into home territory, and when they were awarded a penalty, Jamie Guy’s kick opened their account.
Spurred on by this, the away team mounted a series of attacks which were well contained by the hosts’ defence.
The ball was then cleared and a Blaydon man came in from the side at a driving maul.
The resulting penalty led to an attacking line-out and another driving maul from which hooker Aarin Yorke burst through to score another converted try, making the score 14-3.
Blaydon attacked at every opportunity, though they were generally well-contained by a resolute home defence.
One superb last-ditch tackle by ‘Gate full-back Oli Rosillo was required to prevent a certain try, and the visitors had to settle for kicking a second penalty of the half as the only reward for their efforts.
Having been in the ascendancy for much of the opening period, the Aces began the second in similar fashion.
A searing Rosillo break from deep was well supported by Tasker and Danny Matthews and Sam Fox cleverly orchestrated further attacks.
Another driving maul led to a second try for Yorke, which put Doherty’s troops 19-6 ahead.
Lawson then narrowly lost out in the race to touch down a kick ahead over the Blaydon goal-line, but Harrogate were not to be denied a fourth try and a bonus point.
Sustained forward dominance led to big lock Sam Brady crashing over, and although the visitors grabbed a consolation score at the death, the game was already over as a contest.
Next up for ‘Gate is a trip to bottom-of-the-table Wilmslow on Saturday.