ILKLEY'S tough start to the New Year continued with a visit to Moorend to face Cleckheaton, Lying fifth, just one place below the Dalesmen who had won the home fixture by a whisker.

Never an easy place to visit anyway, the home pack looked formidable even before kick-off and with Ilkley missing Steve Costello and Luke Gamble after the previous Saturday’s fine win at Brods, this was going to be a tall order for the relatively light Ilkley eight.

Happily for the visitors, a stunning first half performance secured the win, though the anxiety levels of all the Ilkley contingent were turned up to eleven as Cleck fought their way back in the second half.

In the end, with three tries apiece, the difference was down to the goal-kicking, Chuckie Ramsay nailing all three attempts to his counterpart’s single success. 21-17 to the visitors then and another double this season under the belt.

Ilkley’s whirlwind start served to unsettle their hosts and whilst the Cleck defence soaked everything that was thrown at them, the Ilkley backs were finding holes and recycling the ball well. A penalty was conceded by the home defence and J-H Johnson’s kick found touch five m out. Two kick and goes later, Jack Maplesden’s long pass found Johnson, who then off-loaded to Harry Harrison to score his side’s first try of the day. Ramsay made light work of the difficult kick.

On fire now after 20 minutes, the first of rather too many lost lines afforded some relief to Cleck, who so far had seen very little of the ball.

Ilkley then pinched a Cleck line, but further progress was halted as the ball was held in the tackle.

Despite a trio of lost line-outs, Ilkley’s pressure was remorseless and after more text-book work through the phases, prop Nathan Hyde crashed over under the posts. Ramsay increased the score to 14-0.

The rest of the half belonged to the visitors, save the last minute, when Cleck skipper Richard Piper led a break-out. The move continued to 30m from the Ilkley line, when a penalty was conceded. Fortunately for Ilkley, the ball was kicked dead and that was the first 40 minutes done.

Having enjoyed comfortably 75% of possession in the first half, the question was, could Ilkley keep it up, or would Cleck start to flex their muscles and play to their strengths ?

The half started brightly enough for the Dalesmen, as an early penalty took them to 10m out. Another poor line seemed to have stymied the attack, but the tap back by Cleck’s evergreen Jack Seddon landed in no-man’s land over his side’s goal line and whilst the Cleck defence dithered, Will Addyman pounced for the try. Ramsay’s kick sailed over and Ilkley led 21-0.

So, 35 to go and surely a bonus-point win on the cards. But not today. A Cleck clearance kick gave Ilkley the throw, just in their opponents’ half, but again the line was lost and this time, the punishment was severe, as Cleck took full advantage. Spinning the ball wide to the left, the Ilkley defence was stretched and eventually wingman Mikey Hayward scorched over to score wide out and too far for Tom Breakwell to add the extras.

The hosts’ tails were up now and it was time for Ilkley to take some battering. The pressure told and after a penalty was kicked to Ilkley’s 10m line, Cleck’s clean take set up the perfect platform for their pack to maul their way over, the try being awarded to lock, Josh Plunkett. Another missed conversion attempt followed.

With ten minutes left on the clock, the Ilkley defence was creaking, though tackle after tackle was going in. Such pressure leads to penalties and with just five minutes to go, another penalty took Cleck to within sight of the Ilkley line. A scrum followed and it was Cleck’s turn to show some pace in the backs as wing Jack Marshall flew in under the posts. This time, the conversion was good and it was 21-17 with a tense finish to savour.

There were three penalties to come. The first went Ilkley’s way, on Cleck’s 10m line and Johnson decided he’d take some time over the attempt, which sailed wide. Then Cleck broke out and it was Ilkley’s turn to concede on the half-way line. Into the 22 went the kick and with Ilkley’s hearts in their mouths, Cleck won the line.

Going to ground though, they were deemed to have held on in the tackle and with an audible sigh of relief, Ramsay hoofed the ball into next week and referee Sam Potts blew for time, 17-21 FT.