Never-say-die Whitehaven’s battling bid to pull off The Great Escape is over with one more game to play.

It ended with a heart-breaking 20-18 defeat at Oldham. And in the final analysis, the sides were separated by one conversion only.

Phil Joy, Liam Thompson and Adam Clay scored tries for Oldham, with Lewis Palfrey converting all three and landing a 35th-minute penalty.

Ugo Perez, Liam Carberry and James Newton replied for Whitehaven but Ed Chamberlain landed three goals to Palfrey’s four.

Like Palfrey, the Haven full-back kicked a penalty – on the stroke of half-time and off the right-hand touchline – but his conversion attempt after the early Perez try smacked against the near upright and bounced away.

It was as close as that – and with such a lot riding on it there was absolute joy in the Oldham camp at the final siren and utter dismay among the Cumbrian contingent, both those who had given their all on the field and those on the terraces who had given backed Haven vocally from start to finish.

For Oldham, and their long-serving chairman Chris Hamilton and coach Scott Naylor, it was Mission Accomplished; they had earned their place in the Kingstone Press Championship for another year and had avoided the heartbreak of relegation after one year up.

For Whitehaven, it meant the end of a long, hard slog to stay up and relegation to League One next year alongside their west Cumbrian neighbours and derby rivals Workington Town.

Haven were off to a brilliant start.

There were only four minutes on the clock when Dion Aiye bust a two-man tackle 20 metres out on the left, drew full-back Scott Turner and sent Ugo Perez over for the try.

Chamberlain’s conversion attempt hit the post, but no one realised at that stage how significant that would be.

Both sets of forwards hammered into each other and Oldham’s Danny Langtree made amends for missing Aiye earlier by smashing Liam Carberry and forcing the error.

It gave Oldham the initiative and they made it count when hooker Gareth Owen sold a couple of dummies from behind the play-the-ball to put prop Phil Joy in for a try which Lewis Palfrey improved.

Oldham were to dictate and dominate the next 20 minutes and it was of little surprise when they increased their lead, Liam Thompson crossing for a second try near the posts after excellent build-up play by substitute hooker Kenny Hughes and second-rower Gary Middlehurst.

Haven were on the back foot as Oldham roared down the Bower Fold slope, but winger Ryan Ince came to the rescue with a try-saving tackle at the corner on Oldham’s wing flier Jamel Chisholm.

Shortly before the break, James Newton was penalised for a challenge on Middlehurst and Palfrey landed the goal for a 14-4 lead.

Haven fought back as half-time approached and, despite a Michael Ward hit on Steven Fox which seemed to shake the stadium’s foundations, Glen Riley went up the middle and the set ended with the hooter sounding and Haven winning a penalty way out on the right touchline.

This time, Chamberlain landed a beauty to cut back Oldham’s interval lead to 14-6.

The home side looked like going well clear when winger Adam Clay crossed in the corner ten minutes into the new half and Palfrey kicked his fourth goal from as many attempts.

Haven had different ideas. They were not going down without a scrap and they rocked Roughyeds back on their heels with two converted tries in the space of ten minutes.

On the back of four penalties in a row, they had Oldham visibly rocking – first with Carberry’s try from close range, goaled by Chamberlain, and then with another by the hard-working Newton after a brilliant break by Dave Allen.

An inspirational forward, Allen made a sensational bust on the right and Newton got with him on the inside to take the final pass and race over the line.

Chamberlain’s goal made it 20-18 and at that stage all the momentum was with Haven.

A defence-splitting break by Chris Taylor looked promising, but Oldham held firm and then mounted counter-attacks in which props Tyler Dickinson and Ward were held on the Haven line by resolute defence.

An unforced error by Carl Forster, one of the game’s hardest-working forwards, gave Oldham vital possession with which they were able to see out the game.

If there was to be a winner, Oldham just about earned the prize on the balance of play and territorial supremacy, but full marks to Haven for a fantastic effort.

They couldn’t have done more in pursuit of their survival dream.

Oldham: Turner; Clay, Grimshaw, Gill, Chisholm; Hewitt, Palfrey; Joy, Owen, Dickinson, Middlehurst, Langtree, Thompson. Subs: Hughes, Spencer, Ward, Burke.

Tries: Joy (9), Thompson (26), Clay (49)

Goals: Palfrey 4/4

Haven: Chamberlain; Ince, Taylor, Parker, Burns; Aiye, Gore; Walker, Carberry, Chapelhow, Allen, Perez, Forster. Subs: Newton, Fox, Riley, Holliday.

Tries: Perez (4), Carberry (54), Newton (63)

Goals: Chamberlain 3/4

Penalties: 5-7

Half time: 14-6

Referee: Tom Crashley

Attendance: 843

Star Man: Dave Allen