A CONTROVERSIAL penalty try two minutes into added time cruelly denied West Hartlepool the win which would have kept their North One East title hopes alive.

The simple conversion allowed visitors Pocklington to snatch a 23-22 win and seal top spot with two games left.

With scrum half Ryan Painter having been sent off following an altercation just before half-time, a yellow card for prop Adam Coates reduced West to 13 men for the last six minutes.

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Heroic defence had almost paid off when they appeared to strike the ball against the head at a five-metre scrum, but it rebounded to the Pocklington side and, with the scrum still advancing, a penalty try was awarded. The referee apparently felt the ball had been deliberately kicked out of the scrum.

It was rough justice for West, for whom elusive winger Rob Thorn and full back Zac Southern were prominent in some impressive counter-attacking.

They created two tries for young centre Liam Checksfield, who finished well on both occasions, as did Aaron Myers when set up by Thorn for the first try.

West led 17-9 at half-time, but it proved crucial when Gavin Painter's conversion of Checksfield's second half try slid narrowly wide.

West are one point ahead of third-placed Penrith and need to do Durham City a favour this week by winning at Dinnington. Otherwise City will be relegated after losing 39-13 at Driffield.

Blaydon failed to rise to the challenge of staving off relegation from National One when they lost 40-17 at home to Ampthill.

They slipped into second bottom place, three points behind Hull Ionians, who came back from 19 -7 down at half-time to pick up the four-try bonus in a 31-26 home win against Cambridge.

There are no easy games left for Blaydon as they visit Cambridge this week, entertain Rosslyn Park on April 22 and finish off at Old Albanians. Ionians have a home game against Albanians between two tough away fixtures, the last one at Mowden Park.

Defensive errors cost Blaydon as Ampthill winger Nigel Baker scored a hat-trick in the opening 30 minutes.

When the home forwards began to exert some control they got lock Andrew Davidson and flanker Jack Davison over the line and with Andrew Baggett adding both conversions following a penalty the gap was down to 26-17 at half-time.

But a try early in the second half stretched Ampthill's lead and a long period of stalemate followed before Blaydon dropped the ball when on the attack and gifted the visitors their sixth try.

Mowden Park were caught cold at Esher, where they replied to a 33-0 interval deficit with 33 points of their own, only to concede a further 17.

Mowden's transformation produced tries for winger Shaun McCartney and flanker David Fisher in the first five minutes of the second half.

But Esher hit straight back with a penalty and a converted try to make sure the tables would not be completely turned.

McCartney, prop Jack Payne and Josh Bragman scored further tries for Mowden, with Garry Law adding four conversions after coming off the bench.

Former Middlesbrough scrum half Sam Gaudie made his first appearance for Wharfedale following injury and starred in the 13-10 home win which ensured survival in National Two North.

Tynedale slipped to seventh when they failed to hold on to a 17-12 lead at Luctonians, gained with the help of two tries from centre Jack Harrison. The Herefordshire hosts drew level then scored a late converted try.

Billingham maintained hopes of a top four finish in Three North when back row man Anthony Jackson bagged a hat-trick in a 41-14 win at Doncaster Phoenix. Liam King also scored on his debut.

Northern continued to march towards the Durham and Northumberland title with a 43-15 win at Gosforth, while Barnard Castle enjoyed the expected romp against Ryton.

A 90-3 home win maintained the second place deadlock with Westoe, who won 24-0 at home to Stockton, who finished with 13 men.

With ten first team squad members unavailable, Barney gave lock Isaac Baker his debut, joining fellow teenagers George Hall, Jack Worley and Danny Souter in the pack, plus George Welsby, Miles Brookes and Tom Steen in the backs.

Skipper Adam Kicks and fly half Greg Upton were on the bench after illness, but Kicks replaced Chris McTurk once the former Mowden winger had completed a first half hat-trick with a superb try featuring a chip and a mazy run.

Brookes (2), Worley and Doug Shaw got in on the act, with Sam Errington's conversions making it 45-3 at the break.

Brookes completed his hat-trick and Steen bagged a brace with further tries coming from Charlie Butlin, Kicks (2) and Ed Kirby, with Joe Larder adding the second half conversions.

There were hat-tricks for centre Connor Foley and winger Ben Wood in Middlesbrough's 38-21 win at Medicals, although observers noted that the worse Boro played the more they scored.

They started well but let a comfortable lead slip to trail 21-19 at half-time before finding a scrappy way to win. Matthew Todd landed four conversions.

Hartlepool continued to fight against an immediate return to division two when they edged home 24-22 against Horden, leaving them four points behind neighbours Rovers with two games left.