Old Crossleyans must guard against their North One East season fizzling out after they suffered a third consecutive defeat when beaten 13-3 at home to mid-table rivals Morpeth on Saturday.
The visitors, who won the first meeting 15-14 in mid-November, were good value for their success in a match switched to the pitch outside the Broomfield clubhouse with the main field still snowbound.
The game was marred by an injury to visiting fullback Lynas Francis, who suffered a broken leg after 26 minutes, leading to a 40-minute stoppage.
The scoresheet stayed blank up to the 52-minute mark and after James Phillips and Crocs’ stand-in kicker Billy Hammond had traded penalties, prop James Armstrong got Morpeth’s all-important try from close range on 63 minutes.
Centre Phillips converted and denied Crocs a losing bonus point with a penalty right on full time.
Crocs were some key men missing - player-coach Chris Jones, lock Tony Oxley, back rower Manny Riaz and scrum half Chris Vine - for a game which should have taken place the previous Saturday and they were further disrupted by injuries to stand off Gareth Ott, centre Neil Richardson and No 8 Ryan Hammond during the contest.
However, rugby chief Howard Cooper wasn’t prepared to use that as an excuse for defeat, blaming his side’s poor ball retention and ill discipline after play had resumed following Francis’s injury.
Crocs, who welcomed back Billy Hammond and Will Travis, are usually fighting for their lives at this stage of the campaign and Cooper suggested that things were a little too comfortable at the moment.
“We need to pick things up for the last three games,” he said.
There was a breathless opening to the match with 23-year-old South Yorkshire referee Jack Makepeace allowing the game to flow.
Long-serving home fullback Chris Seymour was soon in the thick of things as the long-distance visitors made the running.
Morpeth twice kicked penalties into the corner but defending their own line is Crocs’ strong suit and the visitors’ mounting frustration was reflected in Phillips’ ambitious drop goal attempt after 18 minutes, the ball going wide.
Phillips put his side back on the attack with a weaving run but a Francis knock on brought relief to Crocs after some sustained pressure.
The visiting fullback then went to ground with the ball in midfield, accompanied by a sickening cracking noise, and the players returning to the clubhouse when it became apparent an ambulance was required.
When play resumed, home skipper James Wainwright mounted a rare Crocs threat by regathering his chip ahead.
However, Morpeth still held a territorial advantage and Phillips missed two penalty chances at the end of the half.
Home centre Jack Hammond finished the opening 40 minutes in the sin bin and was joined by visiting prop Liam Carmichael early in the second period.
Morpeth continued to press and injuries were starting to take their toll on Crocs, particularly in the backs, while Ryan Hammond was forced off for a while but gamely returned.
Phillips eventually kicked Morpeth in front but Crocs responded well on the back of Seymour’s excellent line kick and Billy Hammond made it 3-3 on 55 minutes after the visitors had cut short a home attack by knocking the ball down.
Armstrong finally ended Crocs’ try line resistance, after a penalty award and a further 10 metres for dissent, Phillips’ goal making it 3-10.
However, the home side then had their best spell, Joe Baker going close after Wainwright’s break had been supported by prop Rory Davis.
Crocs battered away in the visitors’ 22 but were eventually penalised and Morpeth strung together an excellent move involving five players over 70 metres but winger James Turner inexplicably dropped the ball wide on the left with the line at his mercy.
A late flare-up led to a couple more yellow cards before Phillips had the final word with his second successful penalty.