A HAT-TRICK of tries by full back Iain Dixon helped Darlington Mowden Park to a 35-20 win at home to Bedford Athletic, which lifted them into mid-table in National Three North.

Darlington moved up one place to third from the bottom after drawing 25-25 away to bottom club Dudley Kingswinford.

As it's Powergen Cup third round day tomorrow, both Darlington clubs will have another day off as they prepare for tough games next week, when unbeaten leaders Halifax visit Blackwell Meadows and Mowden go to Fylde.

Mowden will seriously consider handing a senior debut to 19st South African lock Naude Pretorius in that game as they ran into second row problems on Saturday.

Paul Evans was selected there, but a neck problem forced him to switch with No 6 Fosita Tanginoa very early in the game and from the 20th minute the Tongan was partnered by Tom McLaren after Ian Robinson went off with a shoulder injury. Normally a back row player, McLaren was making his farewell appearance as he is to return home to Australia.

In an often scrappy game, Mowden did most of the attacking and should have won more easily, especially after leading 28-10. But poor tackling allowed the visitors to score three tries.

Bedford attacked at the start, but when they failed to throw the ball in straight at a line-out Mowden won the scrum and fly half Michael Georgiou flipped the ball inside to Dixon, who raced 60 metres to the corner.

After 15 minutes Mowden skipper Richard Holborough went on a solo run and put through a grubber kick, which Bedford seemed to have covered. Bu the referee adjudged that Dixon had beaten two visitors to the touchdown for his second try.

Although Mowden had most of the play, their lead was wiped out after 30 minutes. First they conceded a penalty for going into a maul from the side then poor tackling allowed the visiting half backs to break through and score under the posts.

Despite their second row problems, Mowden regained control with two tries from catch-and-drives.

A penalty to the corner resulted in a good take by Tanginoa and the drive was finished off by hooker Tasi Tuhana, with Mark Bedworth's conversion producing a 17-10 interval lead.

Playing downwind, Bedworth quickly added a penalty and when he attacked on the restart a Bedford player was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle and Bedworth's kick to the corner produced a try for No 8 Matt Holmes.

Tim Wilks went on for Evans after 55 minutes and played well, but after another Bedworth penalty put Mowden 28-10 in front they relaxed, allowing Bedford to score two tries either side of Dixon's third.

He capitalised when two visiting players initially went for a high ball then left it for each other. It bounced kindly for Dixon and he raced in under the posts, giving Bedworth a simple chance to add his second conversion.

Following the return of first-choice kicker Andrew Turner to Horden - he has since been injured - Darlington's player-coach Paul Lee decided to return to action ahead of schedule after his knee operation.

He partnered Richard Lang at centre, but Darlington were not as strong up front as they hoped to be at Dudley as lock Paul Radford had to work and prop Dan Miller went off with an ankle injury after three minutes.

Paul Shepherd replaced him and they were still able to get their rolling maul working to good effect, especially in the second half as they came back from 25-15 down with 30 minutes left.

There were still eight minutes of normal time remaining and about the same of injury time when they drew level, but although they went close a few times in the end they were grateful to see a long-range penalty by Dudley fall short just before the end.

After falling behind to an early penalty, Darlington could have argued that they deserved more when they drove a maul to within ten metres of the line and were still going forward when Dudley were penalised.

Full back David Kell kicked the penalty, then Darlington's most threatening first-half player, winger Frankie Coulson, began to show his paces.

A good run ended with a knock-on five metres short, but then Darlington lost a scrum on halfway and the backs were out of position as Dudley moved the ball out to score.

The conversion and a penalty put them 13-3 up, but then Coulson took a decisive hand.

He again put in a good run and this time improving No 8 Michael Taylor finished off from five metres. Although Kell was striking the ball well, he missed the conversion.

Coulson then cut inside from 20 metres out to score by the posts and the conversion put Darlington 15-13 ahead.

With Lang tending to over-commit himself in defence, the hosts were allowed to score tries either side of half-time and regain their ten-point cushion, but with the wind behind them Darlington always looked capable of clawing it back.

Kell missed with one attempt before landing his second penalty after 53 minutes, then Darlington rolled a maul almost to the line.

When a five-metre scrum was awarded they were under pressure as it wheeled. But the home scrum half went for Taylor as he tried to pick the ball up and Rob Stewart grabbed it to score. Kell converted from halfway out to level the scores.