THE voices of the home supporters raised in hope turned to groans as Danny Wood’s long-range penalty in the final seconds of Saturday’s match did not quite have the legs to bring victory.
A rare losing bonus point was little consolation for the Woodhead men, who continue to hover perilously above the drop zone in North One East.
Coach Ian Armitage believes three wins should be enough to keep his side up and this should have been one of them as Middlesbrough were there for the taking.
Just how the Teessiders are third in the table is a mystery on Saturday’s showing. Their display was littered with errors, notably from fullback Ross McNeil who seemed unable to pick up the ball, and the visitors’ only area of superiority was in the mauls.
Brods, with two teenage props in debutant Alex Dawson and Jonjo Ward, fronted up remarkably well but a back line which seems to be in a constant state of flux not surprisingly lacked the cohesion to take advantage of a better forward platform.
Stand off Liam Scott was a withdrawal due to illness and further disruption was caused when long-serving Adam Standeven, now operating in the centre, went off with a bloody nose in the early stages and then injured a knee on his return.
Brods, who have now won only two of their last 12 games, looked as if they would be blown away in the early stages of this contest, which got a late go-ahead after concerns about frost in a shaded corner of the pitch.
There was a minute’s silence in memory of 18-year-old club member Adam Dixon, who had died in tragic circumstances six days earlier.
Matty Hoyle, playing at fullback after a reshuffle, made a decent clearance following the kick off but Middlesbrough set up a maul from the lineout and trundled the ball 40 metres down the slope. Although eventually halted near the try line, the visitors recycled the ball for second row Richie Barker to muscle his way over.
Winger Jack Bircham converted to make it an easy seven points inside the first three minutes and it seemed that the die was cast.
Brods, however, were having none of it and responded well after Bircham had missed an angled 35 metre penalty.
A couple of probing kicks from Richard Holborough helped put them on the front foot and the lively scrum half also combined with No 8 Luke Scrimshaw to make 40 metres.
Hoyle and winger Michael Briggs launched an attack down the right and Middlesbrough handled in a ruck, enabling Wood to land a straight 30 metre penalty and make it 3-7 after 19 minutes.
Play remained in the visitors’ half for much of the second quarter with Middlesbrough unable to get hold of the ball for long enough to drive it downfield through their forwards.
With their handling somewhat laboured, Brods were looking to the likes of Rob Jennings, Scrimshaw and Andy Clay to batter a way through.
With half time looming, the hosts were unable to take advantage of an overlap on the left but a high tackle left Wood with a chance to reduce the deficit to one point and his long, low kick scraped over the bar.
The young stand off was on target again with another fairly difficult penalty three minutes into the second half and Brods appeared to have turned things around completely when they went 16-7 up on 49 minutes.
Briggs went flying down the right flank, hacking the ball into the in-goal area and Middlesbrough were forced to concede a five metre scrum.
A pushover try was not quite within Brods’ scope but Jennings charged almost to the posts and the ball was swung left for replacement Ian Mallard to touch down comfortably. Wood added another great conversion.
Brods then let their concentration slip for five minutes and it ultimately proved fatal.
The Middlesbrough pack powered forward and a penalty took them to within 15 metres of the home line. The visitors eventually created an overlap on the left for McNeil to redeem himself to a certain extent with the finish on 54 minutes.
Bircham’s kick from wide out landed on the bar and went over.
However, he did not need the assistance of the woodwork on 57 minutes, when his penalty gave his side a 17-16 lead, or 13 minutes later after Ward was ruled to have dropped a scrum.
Brods made determined efforts to save the game. Wood reduced the gap to a single point on 76 minutes and had two chances to win it - neither of them easy.
His well-struck first effort went to the left and the ball dropped just under the bar for the second in the game’s last action.
Armitage said: “I’m gutted - I thought the better side lost.
“But that was 80 per cent better than we have played over the last couple of months. There was plenty of energy and enthusiasm.”