Stags get set for play-off test after Gateshead defeat

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A narrow 24-22 defeat and a determination to play for the win until the death marked the final game of the regular league programme for Hemel Stags in their debut Championship One campaign.

Taking on Gateshead Thunder in the Tyneside city’s famous International Stadium, Stags were already secure in the knowledge that their form so far had won them a top six playoff place.

They trailed by four points at half-time but were only two points down with two minutes left on the clock.

When they were presented with a penalty in front of the posts coach Troy Perkins sent out the order to run the ball and try for the win, but the gamble didn’t pay off and it was the home side who were celebrating at the final whistle.

Gateshead had opened the scoring on seven minutes, with full back Luke Hardcastle crossing the line and then converting to put his side 6-0 up.

Stags levelled on 15 minutes when a kick through on the last tackle found Harry Mostyn for a simple touch down with BJ Swindells converting.

The visitors nosed ahead three minutes later through a penalty for the markers not standing square and opened up some daylight when prop James Howitt took the ball to Aaron Small who spun out of the tackle to score, Swindells again converting the try.

But the Stags bungled the resulting kick off and from the scrum Gateshead’s Johnson went over on the right wing to bring the hosts back to within two points.

Amateurish Stags tackling was to blame when Jason Payne scored a try, converted by Hardcastle, which turned the tables before the turnaround.

The second half began with Gateshead on the front foot, Stags having to be at their best to hold prop Welton up over the line.

The visitors took the fight back to Gateshead and earned themselves a goal line drop out.

Gateshead took the option of two points when they won a penalty for ripping before a try in the left corner by the influential Chris Heil opened up a telling gap, increased by Hardcastle’s kick.

The Hemel fightback saw a perfectly weighted cross-field kick by Ben Young claimed by a leaping Harry Mostyn to chalk up his second try of the game.

A flowing move by the backs was finished by Eddie M’Baraga barging over and Swindells added the extras to give Stags a scent of victory and the bold decision to go for broke at the death.

Oxford are the opponents for the playoff game at Pennine Way on Sunday, kicking off at 3pm.