Otley fans deserve to see big improvement - former skipper Simon Willet

Ilkley Gazette: Otley right winger Arnold Ellison is tackled by Harrogate's pacy hooker Aurin Yorke Buy this photo » Otley right winger Arnold Ellison is tackled by Harrogate's pacy hooker Aurin Yorke

Otley 9, Harrogate 25

Otley replacement Stephen Costello’s Christmas jumper apart, there wasn’t a lot of festive cheer in the home clubhouse after their eighth defeat in nine SSE National League Two North matches.

The hosts were second best throughout to lively derby conquerers Harrogate, who thus replaced them in 11th spot.

Otley are now fifth from bottom, and 13 points above the last relegation place with a possible 70 points to play for.

Cross Greeners’ lock and former skipper Simon Willet said afterwards: “We began the season targeting a top-four place, and the season can now go one of two ways.

“We can feel sorry for ourselves or we can take a first-team squad to Bradford & Bingley next week for the Granville Clark Memorial Trophy, put in a performance and lay down a marker for the rest of the season. We owe it to the fans to put in some performances.”

Willet added: “I don’t think it looked like there was any lack of effort here and we are not going to go down – but I am glad that we got those points early in the season.”

On a day when Otley’s season’s best-crowd of 817 filled up all the car-park spaces, bought all the programmes and drank all the hand-pumped beer, Harrogate started the better, centre Sam Bottomley going through a large hole in the home defence in the eighth minute for a try which the influential Callum Irvine converted.

Otley were being starved of possession, and invariably when they did take the ball into contact, they lost it.

However, three penalties by Otley fly half Mark Ireland kept them in contention before half-time, Harrogate’s second converted try coming from pacy hooker Aurin Yorke in the 34th minute after an astute grubber from former Otley back Kyle Dench.

Trailing 15-9 at the interval, Otley started the second half like there had been some teacups thrown in their changing room at half-time.

Props Paul Hill and George Burkinshaw set the tone, and a sublime pass by centre Michael Coady gave full back Ben Fairclough a half-chance which evaporated when he hung onto the ball instead of passing it outside.

The intense home pressure did tell in one sense, however. Harrogate’s skipper Jacob Brady was sin-binned for interference, but Otley couldn’t make the man advantage count, despite playing with more pace and purpose.

The visitors still looked dangerous on the counter attack, though, and again profited too often for Otley’s liking when the hosts lost the ball in contact.

Harrogate got their third try in the 63rd minute. Otley winger Harry Hudson, knowing he could not kick directly into touch as he had palmed the ball back into his 22, kicked the ball downfield, allowing Harrogate to sweep back on the attack.

Irvine got the touchdown, with Otley’s director of rugby James Tiffany soon calling for his players to ‘move the ball’.

Industrious home scrum half and skipper Steve Depledge did his best to comply but the harder Otley tried, the more errors they came up with, such as Ireland failing to find touch with a penalty, Ben Steele not throwing straight in a line-out after they had won another penalty and Arnold Ellison being penalised for a 'forward pass' when they tried to run it from deep.

Dench had the last word, getting the fourth try, and the bonus point, for buoyant and impressive Harrogate in the 79th minute.

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