IT was a winning return to action for Ilkley Town as they beat Horsforth St. Margarets 2-1 at Ben Rhydding Sports Club in their first friendly of the 2020/21 season.

Tom Fleming was the match winner for Town in the end, netting a brace to help his side gain bragging rights over their near rivals.

It was the first match involving the club’s new 'Walk On' initiative, which encourages people to travel to the game on foot with the aim to build a community program to benefit physical and mental well-being. 20 people took part in socially distanced groups walking from Ben Rhydding station to the ground.

Initially, it was a cagey affair, with regular swings in possession and a few half chances. This continued until the 15th-minute, when Fleming broke the deadlock with a well-taken finish. After receiving the ball on the edge of the box, the striker deftly turned and slotted the ball into the bottom corner, ricocheting off the inside of the post on its way.

Fleming’s goal appeared to wake up the visitors, as after conceding they proceeded to pick up the tempo, and subject Ilkley to a lengthy spell of pressure. Horsforth had a couple of noteworthy chances, most noticeably a low cross fizzed into the box that was brilliantly tipped over by Tim Edney's fingertips.

The Yorkshire Amateur League Supreme Division side were rewarded for their efforts 10 minutes before the break when they equalled the scoreline.

The returning Matt Whitehead almost made the perfect impact for Simon Armstrong's men as he swung a first time cross into Tom Smith, who fooled the opposition by taking a touch, before shooting towards the near post. Despite beating the goalkeeper, the effort failed to bypass the sliding challenge of the defender, meaning the hosts had to be content going into half time level.

In the second period, substitute George Gomersall looked bright. His mazy dribble past several opponents led to him being brought down. The subsequent free kick was met by Adam Davey, whose low shot forced a good save from Horsforth's keeper.

This was later followed by a string of Town attempts from Smith, Joe Garside and Will Giles. The latter had a header that was destined for the top corner but was well palmed away.

Ultimately, Ilkley's pressure did pay dividends when Fleming doubled his tally in the 77th-minute. The number nine's powerful shot, beating the keeper at his near post.

It was an action-packed ending with both sides coming close to snatching a late goal. However, it was the West Yorkshire League Premier Division team who held on to get their pre-season off to a bang.

This Saturday, the Baht ‘atters will host North West Counties First Division North side Steeton (2.00pm) who will be eager to bounce back from their opening friendly defeat to Eccleshill. 

New FA guidance has been released this week meaning all games must be played behind closed doors.

Matthew Lambe