Ilkley 6 Harrogate 24

WHEN your side has conceded four tries, lost two key players to head injuries and generally had a miserable afternoon, it might seem invidious to criticise the referee.

But so often did Mr Howarth’s whistle blast throughout this otherwise absorbing game, two to one in Harrogate’s favour, that there can be little doubt as to the adverse influence that had from an Ilkley viewpoint as they lost their seventh-successive North Premier League game.

The Dalesmen lost again, out-muscled once more by a larger, stronger pack and unusually, were not able to salvage a losing bonus-point, despite being only a point behind Harrogate for an hour.

Yellow cards were flourished to Will Coates and Adam Newman at crucial times and losing both Josh Cockerham and Dan Lawrence to head injuries added to Ilkley’s woes, though it might be argued that the uncontested scrums were not wholly disadvantageous.

Ilkley notched the first score of the afternoon with a Charles Morgan penalty, earned as the visiting backs strayed offside as the home side won a scrum on the Harrogate 22, but the visitors came straight back and were awarded three penalties in as many minutes, the last of which led to Coates’s yellow.

Intense pressure from the Harrogate pack was soaked up bravely, but eventually the dam burst and Sam Brady emerged from the pile after touching down. Luke Riddell’s conversion made it 7-3.

A high tackle on Ben Magee was punished by only a penalty, but Charles Morgan found touch just five metres from the opposition goal-line.

The line-out won, Ilkley’s backs went close and when the move was halted illegally, another penalty was awarded that Morgan kicked to bring his side within a point.

Coates returned to the fray as the crowd felt inclined to remind Mr Howarth of the time, one wag suggesting the flanker had served 12 minutes, rather than the customary ten – it was that sort of day.

For Ilkley, the remaining quarter of an hour of the first half was spent defending an increasingly dangerous Harrogate attack.

This they managed well, but at the cost of losing Ollie Holtham briefly for a cut, Steven Burns deputising and then Cockerham with his head-injury.

Harrogate could not capitalise on the plethora of penalties that came their way, though with half-time approaching, Newman received his yellow after some stoical defending on the line.

There was no further scoring in the next 20 minutes either, as play went from end to end, but Dan Lawrence had to leave the field. He was followed shortly by JH Johnson, who limped off to be replaced by Jimmy Crowther.

With such disruption to the Ilkley eight, it did not take long for the savvy Harrogate pack to sniff blood.

Despite having been camped in their own half for a good ten minutes as Ilkley were giving it their best, they at last found relief in the form of yet another penalty.

The kick took them into the Ilkley 22 and from the line, Brady emerged once more, ball in hand.

Still only six points behind, Ilkley fought valiantly for that crucial score and with ten minutes to go, Mr Howarth finally took exception to the Harrogate hooker’s robust style of play and belatedly showed him the well-worn yellow card.

Unfortunately, Harrogate upped their game, much as Ilkley themselves had done playing with 14 men and aided by another string of penalties, set up camp in the Ilkley half.

Another catch and drive led to a try for prop Andy Boyde which was converted. Deep into injury time again, scrum-half Danny Matthews darted over for his side’s bonus-point try.