SOME severely hindered preparations clearly hampered Northwich at Stockport on Saturday.

With Moss Farm waterlogged, Blacks had to travel to fulfil the reversed fixture and with several players either unavailable or unable to make the journey, it left director of rugby Martin Poste having to think again.

It proved costly – the end result was a 31-21 defeat and the halting of a five-match winning run.

Indeed, Blacks could have found themselves third in the North One West had they recorded a sixth straight victory.

However, defeat means they have been leapfrogged by both Burnage and Altrincham Kersal as Poste’s men were left cursing a series of baffling refereeing decisions which frustrated players and supporters alike.

With 10 minutes, Stockport had scored two almost identical tries – strong lineout ball leading to space for the backs to score – to take a 12-0 lead and it was an advantage they would never surrender.

However, Blacks finally got going and dragged themselves back into the game thanks to the returning Richard Dale.

He gathered a clearing kick to make a decisive break and when the ball was recycled and play switched, Dale got on the end of Nick Baldwin’s chip to score between the posts.

Stockport kicked a penalty to move eight points ahead, but Dale set about reducing that gap to a single point as he sprinted 60 metres to score after being fed by Sam Naylor.

Another home penalty took their half-time lead to four points, but any hopes of a Blacks comeback were snuffed out in the game’s third quarter.

The home side stormed out of the traps after the break and within the first 20 minutes of the second half, they had secured a four-try bonus point.

Both tries they scored in that period came from close-range scrums as the penalty count continued to stack up against Blacks.

Northwich tried to get back into the match and piled on the pressure, which eventually told with eight minutes remaining when Chris James crossed the line from close range.

Baldwin added the extras and it was game on, with Blacks closing in on a losing bonus point at the very least.

However, even that was lost in added time when Stockport were awarded a penalty and subsequent Northwich dissent put them within kicking distance.

It was that kind of discipline and officiating that appeared to cost them the chance of bringing something back to mid-Cheshire.

Blacks sit seventh in the North One West table and travel to Penrith on Saturday, kick off 3pm.

Northwich: Mike Bradshaw, Mark Thompson, Jan Cartman, Chris Heywood, Patrick Fray, Matt Ensor, Chris Dale, Sam Naylor; Matt Poste, Nick Baldwin; Tom Husbands, Scott Davidson, Tom Wood, Shaun Burma, Richard Dale. Subs: Chris James, Kyle Clarke, Phil Williams