Whitby Maroons travelled to fifth-placed Hartlepool knowing that nothing less than a win would do as they continued in their epic great escape attempt.
Playing uphill into the wind, Whitby started brightly, having the best of the first 15 minutes.
The Maroons should have taken the lead when Phil Coverdale looked to have scored, only for the referee to rule play was held up.
More bad luck was to follow when Whitby’s influential number eight James Newton had to leave the field with a season-ending torn hamstring.
The Hartlepool side came back strongly and after a poor defensive kick scored through their big pack.
Five minutes on, the home team added another when naive blind side defence from Whitby allowed the BBOB scrum half a clear run to the line.
Whitby dug in and with Nick Beaumont and Ed Richardson to the fore exerted pressure on the home line, from a close in ruck wandering winger Ollie Roberts somehow popped up to touchdown, adding an excellent conversion.
BBOB added another score from a long kick which was not converted to leave the half-time score at 17-7 to BBOB.
The second period started badly for Whitby as they felt the rough end of some mystifying decisions.
Firstly, the excellent home scrum half tapped illegally – the referee not spotting the ball had not left his hands, and the number nine bursting through for a none the less good solo try.
Whitby failed to gather another kick and the Hartlepool side went further ahead through their big forwards powering over.
This left the score at 7-29 things looked bleak for the Maroons but to the side’s immense credit, they dug in and took the game back to BBOB.
Fine back moves paved the way for excellent scrum half John Hatton to go over for two tries and then left wing Ollie Roberts intercepted to run 75 metres to touchdown, adding a fantastic conversion and Whitby led 31 to 29.
BBOB threw the kitchen sink at Whitby and Neil Waterfield headed to the bin.
The referee, now seemingly heavily influenced by the baying home crowd, awarded the home side five penalties in a row.
The match ended in controversy when, after five minutes of added time, the referee penalised a Whitby player who was subsequently injured for not releasing, despite the fact the infringement was 4m from the touchline.
In the confusion that followed the injury, the home kicker was allowed to place the ball, some 7m infield and closer to the posts.
The resulting kick scraped in and the referee immediately blew his whistle to relegate Whitby. This was a great effort and the Maroons did not get the result they deserved.
It was cruelly taken away by a huge decision which, in the eyes of many, was the wrong one.
All Whitby’s players, especially the younger ones, were a credit to the club and came within an ace of pulling off the fairytale result.
Whitby Gazette man of the match: John Hatton – courageous display by the much improved Whitby number 9.
* Maroons return to the Showfield on Saturday (April 15) to face sixth placed Wallsend.
Steve Allen’s troops will have to be at their best as the Geordies are a big physical side and they handed an understrength Whitby side a 37-0 battering in the away fixture.
A big bank holiday crowd is expected and spectators should note the game is being played on the second team pitch on the Showfield.
Hartlepool BBOB 32 Whitby Maroons 31