Courageous Performance from a Much Depleted Wirral Side
With the club being forced to play this re-arranged fixture at a time when some 45 players were not available given it was a “free” Saturday; Wirral had to play a much changed side as players in the squads had made alternative arrangements.
We had been seeking to have this match played at the end of April but the league would not allow. As it was Ilkley’s ground was not payable as it was frozen and thus arrangements were made to play the game at Keighley (some 10 miles away) on a 4G pitch with a 4.00pm kick off, in what turned out to arctic conditions with a wind chill factor of Minus 14. Thanks must go to the 4 Wirral spectators who turned up to support the team in these icy winds..
To make matters easy, I give below the team as opposed to the changes:
1. Joe Paton 2. Jack Yarker 3. Steve Pendergast 4. Haydn LONG 5. Paul Lewis 6. James Reeve 7. Matt Dowler 8. Rob Pearl 9. Ben Cornford 10. Craig Harvey 11.Danny Phillips 12.kieran sweeney 13. Dan HARVEY 14. Mark Gidman 15. James Annetts
Subs: Adam Sheldon, Tim Hodson and Josh CONNOLLY
Thus, three players were making their league debuts, Danny Phillips, kieran sweeney and Josh Connolly, two players were playing their second game, Joe Paton and Ben Cornford and amongst the subs making their first appearance of the season were, Adam Sheldon and veteran and granddad, Tim Hodson.
Wirral played against the wind in the first half but for the first 15 minutes of the game had the territorial advantage. After 2 minutes a driving maul close to the Ilkley line resulted in the ball quickly coming out and Craig Harvey crossed over for the first try close to the posts with James Annetts converting, 0-7. Further pressure saw another driving maul with Wirral deemed to be held up over the line under the posts. On 13 minutes from a 5m scrum, the forwards pushed forward and Rob Pearl was on hand at the back to touch down and again converted by James Annetts, 0-14. It was during this play that Steve Pendergast suffered a rib injury (full extent not known at the time of writing) but he played on for the full 80 minutes.
Gradually Ilkley came back into the game, turning down a penalty opportunity from in front of the posts and although being in the Wirral 20m could not break through. On 23 minutes a quickly taken Ilkley free kick resulted in the ball being passed along the back line and Josh Hall scoring wide out, the conversion was missed. At this stage Ilkley were keen to use the pace of their backs and Wirral for their part made ground up the field by controlling the ball and using their forwards with Matt Dowler and James Reeve prominent.
On 36 minutes, smart passing in mid-field allowed the Ilkley backs to capitalise on the space created enabling Ilkley captain Elliott Morgan to run in from 35m to score under the posts and converted by Ben Magee, 12-14. This was followed by a break from James Annetts which took play down to the Ilkley 20m area and from this position, Wirral worked their way towards the Ilkley line and again they were deemed to be held up over the line, when Matt Dowler is lying on the ball over the line. Where is the TMO when you need one? This would have been the turning point of the game if the try had been given. At the end of the half, Rob Pearl suffered an injury to his ankle, similar to the one he has just recovered from following a double tackle by Ilkley- but no action taken by the referee. Half time came with Wirral leading 12-14.
At the start of the second half, Adam Sheldon came on for Rob Pearl as he was unable to carry on. Wirral continued to apply pressure on Ilkley but could not force their way over the line as the Ilkley defence held firm. On 50 mins Tim Hodson came on for Paul Lewis.
57 minutes saw the home team take the lead when good inter passing led to wing forward Joe Lowe running in from 45m unopposed to score under the posts, converted by Ben Magee. 19-14. A couple of minutes later, Ilkley kicked downfield and although fielded by Wirral a knock on gave the home side the advantage at the scrum and with the ball being passed down the line, Josh Hall was on hand to score in the corner, the try was not converted. 24-14. This was quickly followed by another long range try by centre, Pat Atkinson to give Ilkley a 31-14 lead and with the way they were playing were looking likely to score more. At this stage (5.25) there were 15 minutes to go- according to the referee.
Wirral came back into the game and a good run by James Annetts took play down into the Ilkley half and good control of the ball and passing led to Mark Gidman scoring wide out, a great conversion from James Annetts reduced the arrears to 31-21 (74 minutes). Paul Lewis came on for HAYDN LONG (minor injury) and JOSH CONNOLLY for Craig Harvey (hamstring twinge). It was all Wirral now as the forwards made inroads into the Ilkley defence. A strong run by James Reeve took play deep into the opposition half, the ball was recycled along the backs and DAN HARVEY ran in from 10m to score wide out, the conversion was missed. 31-26 (76 minutes).
With what turned out to be the last play of the game, Wirral took play down the left wing and forced a touch 5m from the Ilkley line but weren’t allowed to take the line out when the referee blew for time (5.38) a couple of minutes early, thus Wirral did not have the chance to get an equalising try.
For a makeshift side this was a gutsy, courageous performance with all three debutants putting in impressive performances and worthy of consideration when selection meets on Monday for the home match against Kendal next week.