Harrogate RUFC’s hopes of promotion from the North Premier were severely dented by a 44-24 defeat on the road at Billingham.
Victory would have moved Dave Doherty’s side to within touching distance of their second-placed hosts, who currently occupy the division’s one promotion play-off spot.
Saturday’s loss does however leave the Aces 11 points behind the County Durham outfit and with a mountain to climb if they are to realise their ambition of returning to National Two.
‘Gate made the trip north missing a number of key personnel and forced to field a re-shuffled starting XV.
An early high-tackle by a visiting player led to a Billingham penalty from which they elected to go for a scrum.
Harrogate’s powerful scrummaging quickly disabused their hosts of the wisdom of that tactic, however, a knock-on restored home possession and the ball was quickly spread to winger Matthew Kirby, who finished.
Billingham’s excellent stand-off Pete Evans then added the extras for a 7-0 advantage.
‘Gate responded well and a powerful Sam Brady run was well supported.
Aarin Yorke, playing in an unfamiliar position at flanker, was held up just short of the try-line, however possession was retained and the outstanding Martin Dodds powered over to score.
A series of well-constructed Billingham attacks followed, leading to them toucing down for a second time through centre Luke Wilson.
What was adjudged to be a deliberate Harrogate knock-on then led to a Billingham penalty goal, stretching the score-line to 17-5.
The topsy turvy nature of the contest continued, Doherty’s men enjoying a spell of possession until their were halted illegally by by a high-tackle.
A Harrogate forward drive followed the penalty, Brady and Luke Watts punching holes in the home defence and forcing Billingham to go offside.
Brady eventually crashed over to score from the subsequent attacking line-out and Sam Fox’s conversion narrowed the gap at 17-12.
Dynamic play from Brady, Kieron Forbes, Charley Purkiss-McEndoo and Connor Ward tested the hosts’ resolve, however they held out and were able to regain possession.
Another good backs move led to a try from full-back Martin Hopley and although Harrogate attacked with real promise for the remainder of the half, Billingham were able to make it to half-time with a healthy lead.
Almost immediately after the resumption, a penalty goal extended the home advantage before Evans danced through Harrogate’s defence for an excellent individual try which he converted himself.
A Forbes turnover then sparked a ‘Gate counter, Brady took the move on and winger Harry Barnard’s pace saw him run away to reduce the arrears at 34-17.
Harrogate continued to attack, however they again lost possession of the ball and number eight Dan Dixon made them pay, going over on the right to make it 39-17.
A sixth try followed when the ball was spread wide for winger Alfie Lawson to apply a finishing touch.
A loose pass during another Billingham foray forward was then snapped up by Harrogate’s Andrew Lawson whose pace took him clear for a 60-metre try, earning his team a bonus point.