CARLISLE couldn’t end 2019 with a win but their game against second-in-the-table Blaydon was the best this season.

Seasoned pundits were waxing lyrical after the 31-26 defeat which was still good enough to earn the city side two bonus points. It left them ninth of 14 in North Premier, a solid enough start at the higher level and some eight points above the drop zone.

Indeed, avoiding relegation should not be an issue in the second-half of the season, now they know what all the opposition are like.

At the risk of being repetitive, if Carlisle can improve their discipline and keep 15 men on the pitch each week they should have no trouble in cementing s mid-table place.

Consolidating at the higher level would have been the aim after last season’s promotion and generally they look on course to do that - but no slacking will be coach Matt Shields’ battle-cry.

Blaydon were a bit special, particularly in the backs on the counter-attack, but the way Carlisle came back at them in the closing stages - closing to five points - had them worried. The teams had gone in at half-time all-square on 14-14 with Carlisle’s tries by James Brocket and Dan Holmes, converted by Jason Israel.

Two tries and a conversion early in the second-half pushed Blaydon ahead but Carlisle kept in touch with a Chris Auld touchdown, converted by Israel.

With 10 minutes left, Blaydon scored their fifth try to lead by ten points.

That was down to five through a try by James Telford but although they had plenty of territory in the closing stages Carlisle just couldn’t fashion another try.

There could be no faulting Carlisle’s endeavour and commitment, and they kept 15 on the park which showed it helped a lot in matching one of the best sides in the league.

Penrith scored a second successive win against relegation candidates when they won 31-12 at Bowdon. They play the other side in the bottom three, neighbours Keswick when league action resumes on January 4.

This season Penrith first team have relied heavily on their youth section for a core of their side but on Saturday the Colts, who have done so well for them, were all playing for the county side.

This added to a bit of an unavailability crisis and meant head coach David Preston had to be inventive with his selection.

The squad of 18 selected on Thursday was down to 15 by Saturday morning and, although Craig Tyson was recruited as a front-row replacement, the side’s coaches Preston and Rattray were both named on the bench.

It was a strong 15, though, that started the game and they were too strong in the end for relegation threatened Bowdon.

They certainly did the spadework in the first-half and were 19-0 ahead at the break through tries by debutant Mason Lewthwaite, Scott Lancaster and Ed Swale. They shared the second-half 12-12 with tries from Matt Allinson and George Graham.

There were plenty of positives but most pleasing was the emergence of 19 year old centre Lewthwaite who looks like being a great find while Dylan Cowperthwaite, 18, is growing into his role as a first team player.

Keswick, however, reach the halfway point at the foot of the table although they deserve a lot of credit for how they stuck at it against leaders Wilmslow before going under 56-8.

Wilmslow had given a good display to show why they are top of the table but the final score does not give due credit to the effort, and refusal to give up, of the Keswick players.

Aspatria end 2019 third bottom of North Two West after slipping to a 25-10 defeat at Anselmians. They have recorded a meagre three wins, keeping them in the relegation zone. But this does not tell the entire story. This league is so tight that the bottom seven clubs are all in the same mix and attempting to avoid the drop. Just one positive result is all that would be required to move out of danger.

So there’s still a lot of optimism around Bower Park that they can climb out of trouble. They were still in contention at half-time when Anselmians led 15-10 but they couldn’t add to that tally and as such were unable to take home any bonus.

It’s a five-horse race in the Cumbria League with six points separating them.

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