NOT for the first time, Northwich put the frighteners on a contender for the title.

That they fell agonisingly short, as they had done against Kirkby Lonsdale last month, is an indicator of the small details that make a big difference at a higher level.

Had Nick Baldwin converted a penalty from the contest’s final kick, then Blacks would have celebrated a remarkable victory.

Such a thrilling finish seemed unlikely when they trailed 26-9 at the interval, although they prevented their hosts from scoring a point in the second period.

Early Park pressure earned reward when Paul Hellier’s pass sent wing Adam Wellington to the line in the corner.

Baldwin replied with a penalty, only for Dave Ibbotson to conclude a driving maul with Birkenhead’s second try.

Simon Mason converted.

Baldin landed a pair of three-pointers before the break, but Ibbotson crossed for his second try and his teammates made sure of a bonus point when hooker Peter Doolan forced his way over.

Mason improved both scores with a conversion.

Northwich improved significantly after the interval, claiming a try of their own when captain Chris Dale burst forward from midfield before feeding Shaun Phillips in support.

The returning prop, recovered from a rib injury, touched down close to the sticks to leave Baldwin with a simple conversion.

Blacks’ fight-back was given a boost when Mason was sent to the sin bin as punishment for a high tackle, presenting Baldwin with a penalty from distance that further reduced the visitors’ arrears.

Northwich hopes were hit when James Reilly left the field after suffering a broken elbow, but they remained resilient.

Will Du Randt stepped inside to dot down after Dale fed Sam Naylor following a scrum, only for Baldwin’s kick – which would have levelled the scores – to strike an upright.

When Park conceded another penalty in added time, his attempt drifted narrowly wide of the target.

It leaves Northwich third in North One West ahead of a visit from fourth-placed Wilmslow, victors in each of their past five matches, this Saturday.

Northwich | Phillips, James, Maddocks, Heywood, Smith, Naylor, Chris Dale, English, Poste, Baldwin, Underhill, Reilly, Du Randt, Houghton, Richard Dale Replacements Farley, Thompson, Dudley Tries Phillips, Du Randt Con Baldwin Pens Baldwin (4)