Gateshead Thunder’s seven-game losing streak is finally at an end, even if they were denied by a late drop-goal from Oxford’s John Clough.
Yesterday’s Filtrona Park encounter looked to have provided head coach Kevin Neighbour and his beleaguered team with the win that had been eluding them since the first weekend in May.
University of Gloucestershire All Golds were their victims that day, and the fledgling outfit had threatened to send Thunder back to the bottom of the table after winning back-to-back games.
But Gateshead showed some backbone when they needed it most, especially in the defensive department.
Shipping an average of more than 48 points in their previous five encounters going into Oxford’s visit to South Shields, their try-line was breached only once in each half of a performance they hope will re-ignite their season.
The early signs yesterday had suggested their run of defeats may well continue, full-back Jonny Leather crossing for Oxford and Clough adding the conversion.
But Gateshead appear to be made of sterner stuff now, and they drew level midway through the opening half when Chris Parker found his way over the whitewash.
Oliver Johnson’s try and the boot of Clough had the visitors back ahead as the second half got underway, but a tight encounter was not decided until right near the business end.
First, Omari Caro’s 59th-minute try and Ben Hardcastle’s conversion drew the teams level again, pre-empting an extraordinary end which saw two drop-goals apiece.
On each occasion Gateshead went ahead, only to be reined back by Oxford, Hardcastle’s first drop at the posts negated by hooker Tommy Connick, and Hardcastle’s 74th-minute effort followed two minutes from time by Clough’s equaliser.