BLAYDON proved they can win without skipper Dave Guthrie, who set alarm bells ringing when he limped off with a knee injury after 25 minutes of Saturday's Powergen National Trophy tie.

They lost whenever their driving force was absent last season, but their summer recruiting suggests they now have enough depth in their big squad to survive and they came back strongly after going 13-16 behind with ten minutes left.

They needed a little help from the officials at that point, however, as Mowden were brought back for a forward pass on a touch judge's intervention but the man on the other touchline then missed a forward pass which led to a Blaydon try.

The hosts won the try count 3-2 and generally had their noses in front in a keenly-contested match of few frills.

Blaydon decided not to start with their back row recruits, Pat Segi and Ed Thorpe, after their injuries, but it was the powerful Segi who went on and made sure that Guthrie was barely missed.

Other newcomers such as Croatian prop Ivan Nola and 18st lock David Whitehead have clearly bolstered a pack who had the better of the scrums but found their spirited opponents difficult to subdue.

Mowden's new lock Anthony Peck showed himself to be a mobile, ball-handling forward, while Matt Holmes had an excellent game at No 8 and Ricky Bagier showed up well on his debut at open side.

Mowden gave a competitive debut to French centre Rodrigue Gouionnet, but after missing three games through injury he had to retire at half-time, with newly-arrived South African Pieter Booysen going on.

Both sides could have profited more from penalties, but Michael Breen missed three out of five for Mowden before Iain Dixon took over and landed one out of two, plus a conversion.

Blaydon were more inclined to rely on their forward power, kicking penalties to the corner and twice opting for scrums without reward.

They did take a tenth minute lead following a penalty to the corner, but only after losing the ball and seeing Dixon clear straight to Matt Dehaty.

The winger ran the ball back and after a ruck it was shipped out via full back Nick Gandy and Martin Shaw for winger James Kyle to score.

Breen missed twice before landing two penalties from the 22, the second nudging Mowden ahead just as Guthrie was helped off. He is not expected to be out for more than a couple of weeks.

Again a penalty to the corner led indirectly to a Blaydon try after they had recycled the ball three times before lock Paul Clark was driven over.

A scrap which resulted in props Dave Sinclair and Paul Winter being warned saw Mowden awarded a penalty 20 metres out, from which Breen hit a post.

Five minutes later the referee had occasion to speak to Blaydon's other prop, Nola, and this time Dixon cut the gap to 10-9 at the interval.

Twelve minutes after the break Dan Clappison made it 13-9 with a penalty from under the posts and a stalemate ensued as both teams had a player sin-binned in separate incidents.

The lively finish was finally sparked by a classy piece of work by Peck and Mowden centre Gareth Kerr, who cut back on a diagonal run to take the lock's well-timed pass.

Kerr got to within five metres before turning the ball inside for lock Iain Robinson to finish an excellent move.

Dixon converted and might have scored shortly afterwards but for the forward pass ruling.

It was probably the right call, but it was no more forward than the pass with which Gandy sent Dehaty racing into the 22, where the Blaydon forwards drove on and flanker Andy Wright suddenly had a clear eight-metre run to the line.

Mowden's fate was sealed when Clappison kicked into their 22 and Breen tried to run the ball out.

When he was stopped he lobbed the ball towards a teammate, only for Shaw to intercept and stroll over.

Clappison converted for a 25-16 lead, but Mowden came back strongly and the forwards drove to the line but were held up.

When the ball came back fly half Jonny Golightly was stopped and Blaydon killed the ball, somehow persuading refereee Mike Reid to award a penalty try.

In his haste, Dixon hit the post with his conversion attempt but it proved to be the last kick of the game.

Result: Blaydon 25, Darlington Mowden Park 21.