THE malaise surrounding Yorkshire Carnegie deepens.
The club that flew the flag of Leeds in the Premiership for eight seasons have never been at a lower ebb.
They needed a try in the last minute of stoppage time last night to spare their blushes against a team that had not won for 17 straight games, dating back to March 8.
Plymouth had 13 men on the pitch by the time of the final whistle, a bakers’ dozen of red shirts who had put everything on the line to get that monkey off their back.
The Devonians played for 30 minutes of the second half with 14 men, yet more than matched their hosts in that period.
They were denied by Carnegie replacement Christian Georgiou, who punctured their defence and their hopes with a sprint for the line from 15 metres out.
Harry Leonard could not give Gary Mercer’s side the win they scarcely deserved with the last kick of the game, his conversion sailing wide of the uprights as the rain fell almost apologetically on Headingley.
What made the outcome all the more desperate was the attendance, which was almost half of that recorded for the last home game.
A crowd of 2,551 saw the sorry defeat to Rotherham Titans; 1,265 turned up last night.
Right now, the summer rebrand has alienated more Leeds punters than it has attracted Yorkshire folk.
Afterwards, head coach Mercer, who has yet to stamp his authority on the team, attempted to take the positives.
“We’re making a lot of basic errors and it’s not good enough, but I will back this team,” said the New Zealander.
“You have to give this team credit for digging in. This can be a platform for us.”
Carnegie had started purposefully and their handling was sharp in the teeming rain.
Pete Lucock’s neat grubber found the rampaging Jonah Holmes, but the full-back’s timing was ever-so slightly off and he knocked on as he slid in to score.
Plymouth, buoyed by their hosts’ failure to convert, then laid siege to the Carnegie line, drawing a succession of penalties through their pack that they repeatedly kicked to touch to try and force the try.
Their audacity was punished when from a rolling maul they were penalised for holding on and the pressure was eased on the home side.
Carnegie were making hay down the left flank with David Doherty benefitting from space and it was his thrust that created a penalty opportunity that Leonard kicked 17 minutes in.
Albion opted to take the points on offer when the next opportunity arose, turning the home scrum 30 metres out, but Lawrence Rayner pulled his kick wide.
Leonard was not so profligate, lacing a beauty through the posts from 45 metres to keep Carnegie on top.
Then in the Satsuma Segment of time – a commercial gimmick by the club’s sponsors that rewarded fans in the club shop if the home team crossed the whitewash in a three-minute period – Carnegie duly obliged when hooker Phil Nilsen barrelled over the line.
It was greeted by the loudest cheer of the night.
The score put Carnegie 11-0 up, but like the layers of a satsuma, their confidence began to peel away. Plymouth instantly responded with an attack that belatedly resulted in their first points from Rayner’s boot.
The opportune Sam Simmonds then tried to kick his way to the try line but the Albion flanker was denied by the covering Holmes.
Carnegie at times looked like their old selves, moving the ball quickly even in their own 22. At times it worked, other times it didn’t, like when Albion full-back Marc Koteczky was presented with a glorious chance to score that he contrived to squander.
Stout defence meant Plymouth left with only three more points from Rayner.
Rayner then edged Albion in front shortly after the break with two penalties, the first of which saw Carnegie prop James Tideswell sent to the sin-bin.
Carnegie faced an enormous test of character, one that was eased by a red card for Plymouth hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie shortly before the hour for a head butt.
Against the 14 men, Carnegie’s decision-making was ponderous. When presented with a simple penalty to retake the lead they kicked for touch and then subsequently knocked on.
Albion gift-wrapped another similar opportunity that the hosts again gave straight back when the posts beckoned.
The punishment for such dithering was swift. Plymouth launched an attack that eventually led to Simmonds, the flanker, going over.
Rayner’s conversion stretched Albion’s lead to eight points with eight minutes remaining.
Carnegie looked dead and buried, but a sin-binning of fly-half Declan Cusack presented a simple penalty for Leonard and gave the beleaguered, desperate hosts a slither of hope.
Georgiou’s late attack gave them some reward, but Leonard’s missed kick summed up their shortcomings.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Holmes, Goss, Vickerman, Lucock, Doherty (Georgiou 69), Leonard, Dudman (Pilgrim 40); Beech (Imiolek 75), Nilsen (J Walker 58), Tideswell, Hannay (Barnard 75), Smith (Beck 58), Williams, Walker, Burrows. Unused replacements: Imiolek, Hill, Barnard.
Plymouth Albion: Koteczky (Cusack 55), Foley, Woods, Howley-Berridge, Arnott, Rayner, Cushion (Setter 55); Fidler, Cowan-Dickie, Brown, Hicks, Patrick (Jubb 63), Langley, Simmonds, Oakley. Unused replacements: Matavesi, Chapman, Heard, Homan.
Referee: D Procter (RFU).