Cleckheaton enjoyed a happy start to 2017 with a 12-6 win away at Ilkley which netted four very welcome National League Three North points.
Any Christmas excess wasn’t noticeable as both teams worked hard in defence to stop the other from scoring.
Cleckheaton upped the work rate after half-time and dominated possession for most of the second half.
The visitors welcomed back Matt Piper after being unavailable for over six weeks with a broken wrist and Ollie Depledge also returned for his first game since sustaining a knee injury in mid November.
Ilkley got on the score sheet first when Paul Turner, aggrieved from a push in the back, flew off side at the next maul and on hearing the referees penalising whistle, booted the ball away.
Cleck were marched 10 metres and Joe Rowntree claimed three points for Ilkley with a now much easier penalty goal.
Cleckheaton responded with vigour, with Jack Bickerdike marshalling his troops well and Matt and Richard Piper rumbling the ball forward at every opportunity.
James Wilson was vociferously organising from full-back and man-of-the-match, Danny Vento was superb as Cleckheaton made headway upfield.
A penalty for the visitors gave them a line out close to Ilkley’s try line.
This aspect of Cleckheaton’s play was on top form throughout the game with Mark Chivers hitting his target every time and locks Ryan Piercy and Luke Pearson pulling the ball from mid-air.
Richard Piper went close following the line-out and Niall Jackson also almost made it over but Ilkley’s defence held firm.
Bickerdike spread the ball to stand-off Neil Chivers who sent it on its way down the back line, where slick handling put Ronan Evans in at the corner.
Evans teased the crowd by bouncing the ball off a post and the crossbar before it dropped over to give Cleck a 7-3 lead.
Jack Seddon entered the fray for Brad Marsden and Ben Thrower came on for Jackson as Cleckheaton began to rotate their bench, with Joey Carley also introduced to the fray.
Not long after Seddon came on, he had to rest again when he was sin-binned for inadvertently tackling a player who had not taken possession of the ball in a dangerous attacking position.
Rowntree added his second penalty to reduce the half-time deficit to 7-6.
Cleckheaton dominated possession after the break, using their superior power to retain the ball for long periods.
Measured grubber kicks towards the corner from Matt Piper, for Evans and Josh Hall to chase, meant Ilkley got possession back but with little option put to put the ball out of play.
This period of the game took place largely in Ilkley’s half of the pitch but with an explosive full-back and dynamic back line, the home side could potentially counter attack.
One breakout could have seen Ilkley take the lead but for a last ditch tackle from Wilson.
With less than 10 minutes remaining Ollie Depledge forced his way over for Cleckheaton’s second try but the conversion was missed and with only six points in it, the result was far from certain.
A high bomb in the last few seconds was taken on the run by Ilkley, who kept the ball alive and took play to within a few metres of Cleck’s line.
The visitors defence had been solid all afternoon and remained so until eventually Ilkley knocked on and the final whistle sounded to seal a fine away win.