A trip to Clifton Park was always going to be a tough task for Ilkley and so it proved, as league leaders York inflicted a 25-5 defeat on the visitors on Saturday.

Despite having lost three key players to injury the previous weekend and a couple more to unavailability, York still had the firepower to put the Dalesmen to the sword in a match that always seemed a step too far for this (once again) changed Dalesmen side.

There was a welcome return for Ben Magee, Charles Morgan and Alex Powell but unavailability had again caused a re-jig of the backs from the side that had so powerfully defeated a solid Pontefract side the previous weekend.

From kick-off the hosts were gifted a penalty on half-way but their lineout was disrupted and the Dalesmen, as is their normal plan, attempted to run the ball out of defence. As they reached their 22 there was an almighty clash of heads and Ilkley captain Joe Lowes and his hooker Charlie Head were prone.

Attended quickly by both Ilkley’s and York’s physios they eventually were restored to their feet. Head left the field for the duration, Lowes pluckily resumed, but the incident seemed to knock the steam out of the Dalesmen.

Ollie Ham came on to replace Head.

A scrum penalty to Ilkley gave some respite but the impressive York back row won a turnover, then they benefitted from two penalties and the unusual sight of the Dalesmen defence falling off first up tackles. Prop Lewi Jackson, a perennial tormentor and leader of the York “bomb squad” went on one of his rampages but lost the ball in the tackle.

The relief was temporary with more tackles missed giving veteran fly half George Davies the opportunity to stroll over for a try to mark his 200th appearance for York. Liam Hessay converted. 7-0 after 15 minutes.

Hessay then added a further three points from a penalty after some poor Ilkley handling and more missed tackles.

Then came a glimmer of hope for the visitors and it produced what was, by acclaim, the try of the match. A scrum was well won on half-way and fully 17 phases later the ball was sent down the back line with a final looping pass to Ben Magee who showed his wonderful turn of speed to score wide out left. Charlie Morgan’s conversion attempt was just off target, but the score was reduced to 10-5.

From the restart a bizarre knock on by an Ilkley player was picked up by a teammate and Mr Garland correctly indicated penalty. In a flash the deficit was eight points.

Ilkley ended the half with 14 men after JH Johnson was given a ten minute break in the sinbin for an unspecified offence on the ground. Their indomitable defence was necessary in spades to keep York out.

Max Jones replaced Lowes early half-time and Luke Gamble replaced the unlucky dynamo James Colclough whose nose got bent out of shape.

Ominously for the travelling support, Ilkley spent a large part of the second period defending their line.

However, York too know how to defend and how to stop the opposition. Ilkley found it impossible to deploy their potent strike force and both Magee and Ben Walker had to take the circular route on the rare occasions they got chance to break cover.

York though broke the Dalesmen’s defensive wall twice more. The first was a great run round off the back a penalty scrum by York 9 Ferguson for a debut try. 20-5.

The second, after another period of sustained pressure and magnificent Ilkley defence, was finished by replacement Oscar Bell forcing his way over in the corner to end the game at 25-5 in favour of the home team.

York remain top of the table with a five point lead over Heath and Harrogate who both of whom have games in hand. Ilkley still cannot breathe easy in the lower half of the table where the chasing pack are looking ever more ominous below. They have a 13-point margin over the bottom two teams, Doncaster Phoenix and Pontefract.

This week the Dalesmen make their third attempt to play Driffield at Stacks Field, the first two attempts being frustrated by a frozen pitch. Driffield currently lie 4th, 17 points off the top but separated by a 12-point margin from the lower two thirds in this increasingly unpredictable league table.

A win would be a huge fillip to the club in its 2023/4 campaign.

Ilkley’s 2nd XV grabbed victory at Moortown, 31 - 24.

Ilkley’s 3rd XV lost at home to North Ribblesdale 2nd XV, 31-12.