Not a great start to the new year.
A fifth league defeat in a row leaves Martin Whitcombe's men hanging precariously above the relegation zone, only one point now separating them from West Hartlepool who currently occupy the final place in the bottom three. Despite the Bees best efforts to throw this game away, with 15 minutes to play, the home side were in the ascendancy and should have gone on to win, if they had the ability to stop making mistakes and stick to the formula that had put them on top of their visitors, who were undefeated since the first week in November.
As seems to be a familiar pattern this season, the Bees allowed their visitors to gallop into the lead in the opening exchanges and with 17 minutes played it was 17-0 to Alnwick, who didnt have to do much to earn that lead as the home side gifted them all three tries. The first came after 4 minutes when a slightly over thrown lineout pinged off the fingers of Joe Daley and dropped into the no man's land behind the Bees forwards, but in front of the home tryline. The Bees defence was slow to react and an Alnwick forward, Danny Clayton, was able to flop over the line for an easy score. Seven minutes later, debutant fly half, Tanner Lightfoot, attempted a clearance kick out to the right wing, but slipped as he kicked the ball and delivered a looping kick to the Alnwick backline who were gifted an unopposed run up the far touchline for wingman Jonny Burn to claim the score.
With their next foray into Bees territory Alnwick were on the scoreboard again as the home defence seemed reluctant to tackle Prop Clayton as he charged towards the line and he was already claiming the five points before the Bees defence finally reacted to his charge over the whitewash. Arguably it was a fine effort from the Alnwick player, but the Bees inability to plant a boot on the ball and clear their lines, meant the game was being played in the home 22, not thirty or forty metres further upfield, which was allowing the visitors to set out a defensive line which simply waited for a Bees mistake to turn defence into an immediate attack with promising field position.
With the first quarter out of the way, the Bees finally began to assert some sort of pressure on the Alnwick defence, with Tom Cummins, Tom Booth and Mat Cochrane all beginning to run at the opposition to some effect. A couple of half breaks made by Cummins could have led to the Bees getting further inroads into Alnwick territory, but it seemed as if no-one playing in a Bees shirt wanted to get on the end of a potential off load and progress was being made in inches down the middle of the field. The pressure was eventually rewarded on 26 minutes as Cummins drove over from short range after sustained pressure deep in the visitors 22 for his twelfth five pointer of the season. Lightfoot added the extras and at 17 7, the Bees seemed to be at least steadying the ship and were taking the game to Alnwick as the sides turned round.
It was another unforced error that put the Bees on the back foot again, early in the second half as Andy Walker spilled possession allowing Alnwick’s Centre Rob Cuthbert to gather and claim another seven points. At least this set back seemed to galvanise the home side and the pack were now completely dominant in the scrums. This gave the home side a platform to start playing some rugby. There were breaks made to the left and to the right as the Bees were now camped inside the Alnwick 22. A fine move to the right should have seen Adam Sutcliffe in at the corner, but it seemed he was looking at the tryline not the ball as a pass fizzed out to him on the right wing and the ball ended up in touch. The wing man made amends on the next attack up his wing as the Bees pack bashed away at the Alnwick defence and then released the ball swiftly to the right giving Sutcliffe just enough space to slide in for the score.
The Alnwick forwards were now being shunted backwards, upwards, sideways at every scrum. After several collapses the home support were howling for a penalty try as the Bees shunted another scrum this way and that. It took another few minutes before the referee agreed with the Wagon Lane faithful and signalled the penalty try in the 65th minute.
Alnwick were clearly second best at this stage and it seemed all the Bees needed to do was to keep the ball in the opposition half and wait for any mistake which would give the ball back to their pack who could then have ploughed a familiar path back to the Alnwick line. at 19 - 24, the Bees only had to get one more converted score to claim the win and momentum certainly seemed to have swung with the home side.
However, it was not to be as another poor clearance kick gifted the visitors possession up the left wing and within seconds, another 7 points were on the scoreboard, this time it was centre Hutchinson who picked up the score. On 73 minutes Alnwick were over the line again as loose head prop Duncan Smith crashed over and what looked to be a game the Bees could win only eight minutes earlier, was now beyond the home side and with fixtures to come against all the sides in the bottom half of the table over the next 5 or 6 weeks, the Bees need to quickly learn to cut out mistakes and play to their strengths or there could be a return to Yorkshire One on the cards.