ILKLEY were left stunned on Saturday as the side second from bottom, Doncaster Phoenix left home from Stacks Field with a relatively straight forward victory.

Phoenix have a steep hill to climb to avoid joining Pontefract in the drop zone, needing four five point wins which in theory at least would put the Dalesmen somewhere they don’t want to be. All Ilkley had to do was restrict their visitors to no more than a four point win and get a losing bonus point in the process.

Unfortunately, even this modest target was missed as Phoenix proved that they wanted it more and Ilkley imploded in the last quarter-hour of the game, with the South Yorkshiremen running out surprisingly comfortable winners by 35-24.

It was an exhilarating start to the game as both side seemed intent on getting the ball out wide, but it was Ilkley who looked the more menacing, ball in hand and their efforts were rewarded when flanker James Colclough stretched over to touch down on 15 minutes, following a patient build-up by the Ilkley pack. Charles Morgan kicked the goal to make it 7-0.

It didn’t take Phoenix long to respond as a penalty for obstruction was punished by a long kick to the Ilkley 5m line. A catch and unstoppable drive led to flanker Fraser scoring in the corner and the try was well converted by Tom O’Brien to make it 7-7.

A penalty kick to Ilkley was pulled wide, but still the attacks came, forcing Phoenix into some desperate defending. Eventually, referee Sam Potts held that the defending was illegal and the unfortunate O’Brien was yellow carded.

Try as they might, Ilkley could not make the numerical superiority count, despite some great work by the back row, led by Number Eight, Adam Booth.

As half-time approached and with Phoenix back to full strength, the Ilkley pressure told and Morgan kicked his side into a 10-7 lead.

Some poor ping-pong kicking from both sides ensued, but it was Phoenix who got the rub of the green when they hacked through a loose ball and Ilkley were forced into touch 5 metres out. Then a carbon copy of the first try as once again, Ilkley had no answer to the clean catch and drive, Fraser bagging his second, with O’Brien executing another fine kick at make it 14-10 to the visitors at half time.

As the second half got under way, Ilkley upped their game and fought their way upfield. Penalised for holding on in the tackle, the Ilkley pack nevertheless won the Phoenix line. When that move broke down, Phoenix cleared to 25m out, but then conceded a penalty at the lineout. A quick tap and go saw Booth feed the returning Alex Powell to go over, Morgan nailing the conversion to put Ilkley 17-14 now.

From the kick-off, Ilkley conceded a penalty and unsurprisingly, Phoenix opted to kick for distance. Now it was Ilkley’s turn for some desperate defending, but having withstood some fearsome pressure, not always legally, Mr Potts awarded Phoenix a penalty try having played at least two penalty advantages; 21-17 to the away side.

With just four points in it, this was still anybody’s game and another Ilkley indiscretion was punished by yet another kick to 5m out. Fortunately, the ball was held up over the line and a drop-out from under the posts saved the day, albeit briefly.

Try of the day for the Dalesmen as the game entered its last quarter, when another quickly taken free kick went through several pairs of hands before Harry Harrison finally got his reward for a good afternoon’s work with a try just to the left of the posts. Morgan made it 24-21 with around 15 minutes remaining.

It was now that a curious malaise seemed to affect the Dalesmen. Another penalty was conceded at the kick-off and Phoenix smelled blood, battering their way towards the Ilkley line. Some sort of melee developed, ignored by both Mr Potts and Phoenix scrum-half Matt Drennan who scampered unmolested under the posts. O’Brien obliged with the kick and Ilkley were behind again, at 28-24.

Much to the chagrin of the well-lunched crowd, Phoenix then notched their second carbon-copy try of the day five minutes later, the Drennan/O’Brien combo on hand again to cause general stupefaction amongst the Ilkley faithful. At 35-24, the visitors held on for a valuable victory.

Ilkley have two games left to recover their composure, neither of them being remotely easy, facing Driffield away next week and Heath at home for the last match of the season, as the club has not opted to play in any of the end of season cup competitions.

Phoenix on the other hand have to face Harrogate twice in a week and finish away against Sandal. As Harrogate have a game in hand over top club Heath, the title is theirs to lose, but with Phoenix in survival mode, who knows how this will end.