by John Butler
ALL good things have to come to an end sometime, or so the saying goes. Sadly, though the manner in which Coventry saw their 25-match unbeaten home record taken away was for players, coaches and supporters particularly disappointing.
Late on in the match, there was a worrying injury to DMP replacement scrum-half Jack Blakeney-Edwards with the game being stopped for fully 18 minutes whilst both sets of medical teams treated him. Finally taken from the field on a stretcher, the player was then, after a delay, moved off to hospital. The sincerest good wishes of all concerned must be passed on, in the hope the final outcome will not prove to be as serious as was first feared.
Credit first where it is due. Park, hammered at home in the earlier fixture, were well up for this encounter and on the day, against the League champions, they were, by some way, the better all-round side.
Since winning the title, Cov, in the main have been a shadow of the side which swept virtually all before them earlier.
They wore something of a tired look in this fast-moving encounter, dominated for large parts by the men from the north east. DMP were sharper all round, possession for lengthy periods being ruled by them.
What will have disappointed from a Cov perspective as much as anything was the level of freedom the visitors were given to display their talent. Tackling, such a key element for much of the season, was very poor at times, as was the game management.
In truth, on the day Cov were simply not good enough with several of the visitors playing significant roles in a fine team win. None more so than fly-half Warren Seals, who completely ruled the match as well as adding 18 personal points.
Winger Callum Mackenzie was a constant menace every time he received possession, with hard-working lock Talite Vaioleti probably the pick of the visiting forwards.
So, having given full credit to the winners, what of Coventry on the day? They did run in two sparkling tries of their own, but far too often found themselves on the back foot against hungry opponents.
For the second week running all the early pressure was on Cov, the visitors wasting a two-man overlap, before, on 13 minutes, Cov went in front afterWill Maisey had missed a pretty straight forward penalty.
Five minutes later, heavy pressure close in told and in typical fashion, hooker Scott Tolmie stormed over for his 18th try of the season, Jack Preece prominent in the build-up and Maisey converting to take him to 251 points for the season.
It was to take Mowden just two minutes to get on level terms.
A beautiful piece of play from Seals set Mackenzie free, the winger running in with some power. Seals converted well for 7-all.
Six more minutes and the visitors had their second try. This time full-back Grant Connon finished off another excellent move and with Seals converting, Cov found themselves seven points down.
Penalty awards were coming pretty regularly, DMP even shading that area, before Cov won one themselves, Maisey pegging the visitors back into their 22.
From there, another penalty, Maisey landing this one from close in to cut the deficit to four points.
Another magnificent Maisey touch-finder gained fully 50 metres, before Cov wasted the opportunity and possible score, being penalised at the driving line-out.
Not to be denied, home pressure was now more consistent and after two close-in scrums were collapse by Park, prop Alfie Barron was yellow carded before a third scrum went the same way and referee Dan Collins awarded Cov their 11th penalty try of the season.
17–14 to the good and against 14 men, Cov really should have wrapped up the half, only for the persisting visitors to have other ideas. Connon weaved his way through some pretty poor tackling to take full advantage for his second try, again converted by the unerring boot of Seals. And Park led 21-17 at the end of a very eventful first half.
In front of the now confirmed crowd of 1,938, Cov made an absolute flying start to the second half.
Whatever had been said behind closed doors certainly had an immediate effect, with Cov running in two absolute gems.
First, inside 41 minutes, a superb piece of centre play from Alex Grove opened up the space. The former Scottish international, in his penultimate game, firstly delayed his pace astutely before then setting Max Trimble free. The left wing, who had not enjoyed the best of first halves, flew down in front of the East Stand, with Maisey converting for a 24-21 lead.
Within two minutes and again from deep, Cov were on fire again with another wonderful try. This time, full-back James Stokes created the space with a lovely break from his own half, Trimble again finishing with real pace for this 16th try of the season. Another excellent Maisey conversion and Cov were flying at 31-21.
Sadly, such promise which was not destined to last. From 10 points down on 43 minutes, Mowden then blazed into a 41-31 lead by the 62nd minute; 20 points in an 18-minute period to shock the home crowd.
First Garry Law landed a 50-metre penalty goal before skick handling from the confident visitors saw centre Ben Frankland set Seals free for the try which he also converted.
Now level, another Seals penalty from 35 metres edged his side back in front for a lead that was never to be taken away.
Only some defensive work by replacement scrum-half David Brazier stopped DMP from going further ahead before Mackenzie, this time on the right, crossed again, the Seals conversion stretching the lead to 10 points once again.
Law missed a second penalty for the visitors before Trimble almost engineered a lifeline for Cov.
On 70 minutes came the lengthy stoppage whilst Blakeney-Edwards was being attended to.
On the resumption, Cov piled on the pressure, DMP foiling several home attempts, before in the 15th minute of added on time, Heath Stevens crossed to give Cov a glimmer of hope, Maisey failing to convert from touch, with the margin back to five points.
Cov, who had won three early line-outs against the throw, then lost an important one themselves, Mackenzie sealing his club’s first win at Butts Park Arena with his hat-trick try. Seals, for once, missed the conversion, it mattering little with Cov now 46-36 down.
A very disappointing day overall for the Blue & Whites. They must now pick themselves up for one last effort against Hull Ionians, on a day when the National One title trophy will be officially presented.
Coventry: tries Trimble 2 (41, 42), Tolmie (13), penalty try (40), Stevens (80); conversions Maisey 3 (14, 42, 43); penalty Maisey (28). Darlington MP: tries Mackenzie 3 (16, 60, 80), Connon 2 (22, 40), Seals (50); conversions Seals 5 (17, 23, 40, 51, 61); penalties Law (46), Seals (54).
Coventry: Stokes; Knox, Grove (Fenner 67), Stevens, Trimble (Grove 80); Maisey, White (Brazier 51); Brown (Jeannot 80), Tolmie, Boulton (Jeannot 54, Boulton 67), Jubb, Oram, Dacres, Preece, Daynes (Povoas 51).
Darlington MP: Connon; Asher-Wood (Appleby 39), Frankland, Law, Mackenzie; Seals, Gibbs (Blakeney-Edwards 25, Preston-Routledge 68), Barron, Wood, Darkintis (Payne 46), Brady (Heaton 46), Vaioleti, Fisher, Craggs, Hodgson .
Referee: Daniel Collins.