AFTER last week’s disappointing performance in losing at home to Alnwick, Ilkley badly needed a morale-booster to get their season back on track and they delivered with a 39-17 win at Wirral.

There were an astonishing seven names missing from the 18 in the line-up from last week, plus three positional changes, giving the impression there had been some serious blood-letting during the week.

Luke Pearson made a welcome return after injury, as did Joe Lowes and there were two new faces in the forms of Cameron Burnhill at full-back and Will Howarth on the right wing.

Blake Morgan moved to his favoured scrum-half position for the missing Andy Dixon and Charles Ramsay moved to stand-off, replacing Ed Brown, who was on the bench along with Joe Paton and Dan James.

In cold, crisp conditions, Ilkley soon found themselves pressing the Wirral line. The home side knocked on and from a good scrum, bolstered by Ollie Holtam’s return, Ilkley went left. Wirral offended at the breakdown and were penalised, allowing JH Johnson to find touch ten metres out.

A good catch by Pat Power found Pearson in support to touch down wide on the left. Ramsay’s kick was awry but Ilkley led 5-0 before five minutes had elapsed.

Wirral’s kick-off went straight out, handing the advantage back to Ilkley and again. After a Wirral foul and two kicks that failed to find touch, Ilkley broke loose and good hands down the back-line gave winger Struan Connor the chance to outpace his opposite man to score under the posts. Ramsay made it 12-0.

Their tails up, Ilkley’s attack looked irresistible and following some excellent work by Max Mackay and skipper Elliot Morgan, Wirral were penalised for the use of a knee at a ruck.

Johnson found touch in the opposition 22 and the Ilkley pack hammered away at an increasingly desperate defence, who once again conceded a penalty. A tap and go and there was Holtam, who celebrated his return with a well-taken try. The conversion made it 19-0.

Just as the game entered the second quarter, some sublime play by Ilkley found Connor in space again, after a perfectly weighted pass from Burnhill. The winger had a lot to do, but do it he did, collecting his own kick ahead to race 50 metres and score the bonus point try after just 22 minutes. Ramsay’s kick was short, but no-one in the Ilkley camp was complaining at 24-0.

Then Wirral woke up and started to play some attractive rugby. Despite some ferocious Ilkley tackling, Wirral found a hole in the Ilkley defence and a great run by winger Matt Loon ended with No 8 Keith Mahon scoring, the conversion attempt missing.

Another fine break by stand-off Chris Crowley should have added to the score, but a dropped pass on the left wing let Ilkley off the hook, albeit briefly. More smart work in the backs set up a second try for Wirral by Mahon, followed by another missed conversion.

Wirral recovered well from their shell-shock and patiently worked their way up towards the Ilkley line, when a wild pass was intercepted by Connor, who had the steam to run his hat-trick try in from his own 22, right under the posts. Ramsay’s kick made it 31-10 as referee Carl Adams blew for half-time.

In the second half Ed Brown replaced Johnson, who retired with a gashed head, and it was Brown’s well-measured kick for touch that set up a move by Elliot Morgan, whose twisting run ended with Wirral killing the ball at the breakdown, earning a three point penalty from Ramsay and a yellow card for the culprit, Danny Harvey.

At 34-10 to Ilkley, Wirral still looked lively. They earned a penalty and a quick tap allowed the returning Harvey all the opportunity he needed to dot down. His conversion made it 34-17.

Ilkley lost Joe Lowes for ten minutes, but Wirral couldn’t take advantage. Ramsay put in a couple of raking clearance kicks and Elliot Morgan led by example. Dan James replaced Mackay and had a good few minutes too.

Wirral nearly scored from a line-out but were deemed to have crossed and Brown’s soaring clearance kick set up the last attacking move of the game.

Playing some superlative controlled rugby, Ilkley set up the phases through rucks and mauls and eventually, the ball was spun wide for Will Howarth to bag his first try for the club to end the day’s scoring at 39-17 to Ilkley.