WHILE Hartlepool has clearly suffered from Darlington's emergence as a rugby town, it became evident on Saturday just how far Teesside has also slipped behind.

Middlesbrough's home defeat by Blaydon increased the chances of both Boro and Stockton going down from North One.

On Saturday's evidence there can be no escape for Stockton. Last season they lost only 12-8 at home to Darlington in the Durham Cup; this time it was 51-3.

Mowden Park have twice topped 50 points against Stockton this season, and the fact that Darlington followed suit raised hopes that they can give Mowden a game in the semi-final at Blackwell Meadows on March 3.

They will hope the bruises from this encounter have subsided by then as the sight of four of the best players they have produced in the last 20 years in the opposition is still enough to light Stockton fuses.

Paul Lee, Martin Howe and Bryan Dixon were all among Darlington's scorers, Craig Lee was a big threat, and although they played most of the rugby they somehow managed to win the sin-bin count 3-2.

For the same game last year the county provided the referee with two assistants, this time he was on his own and the absence of extra eyes meant the worst instances of foul play were missed.

Instead Darlington's impressive youngsters Dan Miller and Richard Snowball had their copybooks unnecessarily blotted by being singled out for their very minor parts in general punch-ups.

Hooker Rob Goddard was also sent disbelievingly to the cooler for trying to ruck out an opponent who was lying on the ball.

Stockton's yellow cards went to Wayne Roxby and Brett Wildridge, while the most fortunate to escape was Wayne Brown.

The one consolation for Stockton was that Brown's brother, Alan, got on for the last 25 minutes for his first action of the season after a hand operation.

But it was too late for the player-coach to rally his dispirited troops. At 12-3 down going into first half injury time they were in the game; at 27-3 12 minutes later they were totally out of it.

Stockton have lost 25 players to other clubs in three years, the latest escapees being prop Craig Chapman and winger Pedro Salahshouri, who have been signed by Leeds Tykes. Centre Graham Kell, missing through injury on Saturday, is about to depart for a job in Plymouth.

With other centres injured, Stockton have to rely on veteran Dave Cooke, a natural winger who still has a slippery turn of pace but whose passing leaves something to be desired.

His run from broken play set up the position from which Jeremy Good kicked Stockton's only points to make it 12-3 after 25 minutes.

Otherwise they lit most of the sparks and Darlington provided the sparkle with eight tries.

Two of them were scored by David Glendenning, who also added four conversions and a penalty.

In Paul Beattie's absence, all that Darlington lacked was real pace, although Marc Potts put in a couple of good runs which led to tries for Paul Lee and David Andrew.

Miller scored the first try, driven over from a line-out, then a skilful flip from Howe put Potts away before Paul Lee dummied over from close range.

Glendenning wriggled out of a tackle to go under the posts just before half-time, and his penalty five minutes after the interval was swiftly followed by Andrew supporting Potts to score in the left corner.

There were four more tries in the last 20 minutes, a powerful run by No 8 Del Lewis setting up the first for Mark Butler, then Paul Lee broke away and linked up with Goddard for Dixon to score in the right corner.

Howe got in on the act before the final try came from a free-kick, with both Lees handling before Leigh Johnson passed inside for Glendenning to ride a tackle and run round behind the posts.

In the other quarter-final played on Saturday Westoe thrashed West Hartlepool TDSOB 51-12 and will be away to Blaydon or Horden in the semi-finals.

Three penalties by fly half Andy Baggett gave Middlesbrough a 9-0 interval lead against Blaydon, but the visitors came back to win 16-12.

With Wigton winning 29-11 at home to Northern, Boro are now four points adrift of the Cumbrians in third bottom place.

They have lost narrowly to the top three clubs in their last three games and are away to fourth-placed Driffield on Saturday.

Blaydon's fightback began when they kicked a penalty to the corner, won the line-out and centre Ian Dixon scored.

Dean Michniewicz kicked two penalties to put them ahead, but Baggett's fourth penalty edged Boro back in front.

They could not hang on in the face of a sustained assault and Blaydon's player-coach Graeme Clarkson, drafted in at fly half, scored the winning try.

West Hartlepool, who conceded 92 points at Kendal three weeks earlier, matched the Cumbrians in the first half at Brinkburn.

The score was 11-11 going into first half injury time, but West finally lost 42-11 and had lock Andrew Davies sent off near the end.

West took a second minute lead when full back Phil Cuff came into the line to send winger Greg Clark over, and John Stabler added two penalties.

Fly half Garry Schofield scored two tries and added two conversions in Redcar's 19-18 win at home to Goole in a rearranged North Two East match. Lock Neil Cook scored the other try.

Bishop Auckland reached the semi-finals of the Durham Challenge Trophy for the second time in three years when they won 37-31 away to West Hartlepool Amateurs.

Tries were scored by Blanch, John, Rispin, Bartle and Macnair, with Bartle kicking a penalty and Colwell adding a penalty and three conversions.

l FORMER Darlington player Tim Foster, now with Leeds Tykes, has been selected to start at full back for England Under 19s against France on Saturday. He went on as a replacement in the defeat by Wales at Llanelli two weeks ago.

Foster is normally a fly half, but he is being kept out of that position by Teessider James Simpson-Daniel, who is now with Gloucester