Keighley 6 Ilkley 17

After the Christmas cracker served up at Stacks Field three weeks ago against Wath, the fare on offer at Utley on Saturday was more a damp squib.

Ilkley huffed and puffed their way to a 17-6 victory where they needed a late try by skipper Stuart Vincent, converted by Josh Kimber, to calm the nerves of their anxious followers.

It is difficult to find anything to praise from a spectator’s point of view from this match.

Keighley were certainly up for it and their back row of Shaun Minikin, captain Leigh Sugden and the returning and outstanding Scott Dyson eclipsed Ilkley, choking almost every attack by the visitors.

On the other hand, Ilkley’s defence was equally impressive and the team have not conceded a try in their last three games.

After this display, it is difficult to comprehend why Keighley are second from bottom and in danger of the drop.

Equally, it is obvious that a team that can play poorly and win must be in a position challenging for promotion.

With 11 matches to go, including away fixtures at both Dinnington and Doncaster Phoenix, Ilkley’s fate lies in their own hands.

Ilkley missed regulars Paul Petchey and JH Johnson on the wings and whilst their replacements, students Ed Brown and Andy Malley performed well enough, their relative inexperience showed. Elliot Morgan’s introduction added both weight and nous.

Depressingly, Ilkley fell foul of the exchange referee from Warwickshire on far more occasions than their hosts, so much so that both Iain McKenzie after 20 minutes and Pete Small ten minutes from time, were yellow-carded, whereas Keighley’s nefarious activities went more or less unpunished. More to the point, Keighley’s Andy Brown took three attempts at eminently easy kicks at goal before putting his side deservedly ahead after six minutes, but this seemed to wake their visitors up.

Malley’s run was stopped short, but a relentless wave of Ilkley attacks was eventually rewarded when centre Alastair Monks pirouetted over within easy kicking distance for Josh Kimber to give Ilkley a 7-3 lead that was held till half-time.

Ilkley were finding it difficult to produce any coherent passages of play, though Keighley’s only attacking threats came from centre Marco Ferrazanno and wing Sam Walker, both of whom gave their counterparts a hard time.

Kimber and Brown exchanged penalties to make the score 10-6 and the error-strewn game continued in ping-pong fashion until Ilkley’s growing superiority led to a line-out win, a rolling maul and a blind-side try by skipper Vincent which was beautifully converted by Kimber.

At 17-6 down, Keighley knew their game was up, but kept Ilkley on their toes until the final whistle enabled the large crowd to escape to the bar.

Ilkley’s lead at the top of Yorkshire One was cut to three points, following receipt of the other results, but who from Ilkley would turn down an away win at Keighley?

This was a banana-skin that was avoided. The Dalesmen looked very much out of sorts and it is to be hoped that preparation for the Heath match will blow away those cobwebs that were so evident on Saturday.

Next opponents Heath were defeated at home by a late Ilkley try back in sunny Autumn and with a pre-match lunch for ex-players preceding the match on Saturday, coach Rhys Morgan will surely want to impress upon this current Ilkley team the importance of performing well before its forebears.

Ilkley should be at full strength for this match and on current form, should win comfortably.

Then follows a difficult brace of away matches though – Scarborough and Selby – and then a home match in the much-devalued Yorkshire Shield against North Ribblesdale.

With Christmas a distant memory, Ilkley should be able to revert quickly to the form that put them where they are now and weather permitting, make 2014 a year to remember.