BLAYDON'S sudden loss of form after their outstanding run continued when they allowed a 26-7 lead to become a 31-26 defeat at home to Richmond.
The defeat did no favours for Tynedale as it allowed Richmond to pull seven points clear of the third-bottom Corbridge club, whose match at Loughborough was postponed until Saturday, February 22.
Since losing their first four games, Blaydon's only defeats had been by narrow margins at Esher and Fylde. Their rise towards the top four looked unstoppable when they won comfortably at Coventry three weeks ago, but they followed it with a 14-14 draw at home to bottom club Hull Ionians.
The slump can be only partly explained by the absence of Zach Kibirige, whose habit of scoring two tries a game for Blaydon was continued in England Under 20s' 48-15 win against Scotland at Netherdale on Friday evening.
Saturday's turnaround owed much to injuries to experienced forwards Jason Smithson and Chris Wearmouth either side of half-time.
It gave Sean English, recently recovered from injury, the chance to go on, but the second injury forced hooker Fran Entressengle to go into the back row.
Blaydon president, Bill Locke, said: "Richmond needed the win and wanted it more than we did. Our coach, Micky Ward, was not a happy man and will be looking for some reaction this week at Henley.
"Richmond ran the ball from everywhere and in the second half they retained it very well. They deserved to win."
Blaydon had the four-try bonus point in the bag after 30 minutes through a brace for winger Simon Barber and one each for Smithson and full back Nathan Bailey. Andrew Baggett added three conversions.
Richmond scored just before the break and dominated the second half, driving over for the clinching try with 13 minutes left.
The North-East trio in National Three North are still looking over their shoulders after third-bottom Waterloo won at Beverley.
They are now only two points behind Percy Park, whose game at Huddersfield was postponed, while Billingham and Westoe were both well beaten at home.
A try by Dan Finney, converted by Peter Evans, provided Billingham's only points in a 34-7 defeat by Stockport, while Westoe were thrashed 59-19 by Sale FC.
Sam Gaff and Lome Faatau scored the home tries, but after four successive defeat Westoe are considering trying to persuade former captain Gareth Nesbitt out of retirement.
West Hartlepool lost their unbeaten home record in North One East when they went down 17-10 at home to runaway leaders Cleckheaton. West now trail promotion play-off rivals Huddersfield YMCA by eight points.
Facing a strong wind, they conceded two converted tries in the first ten minutes and a penalty ten minutes later to trail 17-0.
But a pushover try touched down by No 8 Sam Miller gave them hope, especially when a melee just before half-time resulted in a yellow card for each side and a red for visiting skipper Richard Piper.
West used the wind well enough in the second half, but the line-out ceased to function and they had to be content with a Stu Waites penalty ten minutes from time.
Middlesbrough halted their six-game losing run with a 20-18 win at Northern and now need to win the next two games against the other two teams in the bottom three, Morpeth and Sheffield.
Despite completing the double over Northern they remain five points behind the Tyneside club, whose ground was in good condition.
With the strong wind behind them, Northern led 13-0
after 20 minutes but Boro settled down after the late arrivals of skipper Rob Bellerby, who flew into the nearby airport at lunchtime, and Simon Moore, who had been working.
A break by his fellow centre Michael Thornburn ended with Bellerby completing a fine move to make it 13-5 at half-time.
Two minutes after the resumption a chip ahead was fumbled by the home full back and Jack Bircham followed up to score.
He added a penalty to level the scores, but on their only visit to Boro's half Northern scored in the corner.
Boro piled on the pressure and after being held up over the line they missed a penalty then put the next one into the corner. The drive was held but with the home defence sucked in the ball was moved out for Bellerby to score his second by the posts and Bircham added the winning conversion with two minutes left.
Having beaten them by 50 points at home, Darlington lost 25-22 at Blyth, handing them four soft tries.