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Comeback kings Keighley are promoted!
From left, Keighley’s Craig Spencer, Alex Brown and Leigh Sugden celebrate promotion play-off glory. Pictures: Eddie Budd
Alnwick 16, Keighley 18
Having trailed 16-3 at half-time after playing into the wind, it took Keighley only 19 minutes of the second half to overhaul Durham and Northumberland Division One runners-up Alnwick’s advantage.
However, there were still plenty of nerves and nine minutes of stoppage time before Keighley, who finished second in SSE Yorkshire Division One, could celebrate their promotion to North One East.
Keighley’s director of rugby Graeme Sheffield was in no doubt as to the significance of earning the right to play the likes of Cleckheaton, Old Crossleyans and Morley next season.
He said: “It is a massive achievement for the club and we are back where to we ought to be.
“But this is not the end. This is the beginning because this side has an average age of 24, and we had fantastic support. We brought 120 supporters in coaches and others came in cars.”
Alnwick took their narrow defeat well, and skipper Andrew Shell said: “We had a good first half but their No 10 (Alex Brown) kicked well in the second half, and in the last 20 minutes injuries didn’t help us.
“We lost our No 9 (Ian Gray), our No 10 (Nick Mather) and our full back (James Bird) but credit to Keighley.”
The game’s most controversial moment came as early as the fourth minute and it could have been pivotal.
Centre Ben Blackwell, Keighley’s man of the match, made the break and Brown finished it off but the try was disallowed by referee Charl Erasmus (Durham Society), who reckoned that Brown had lost the ball in grounding it.
Brown, however, was adamant after the match that he had done nothing wrong, saying: “I scored that try.”
Spectators behind the posts were in agreement, reckoning that the ball had moved after Brown had touched it down but from the sidelines it looked more of a knock-on.
That chalked-off try, which would have garnered seven points as the conversion was easy, looked more significant when Gray scored a try for Alnwick in the ninth minute, Bird converting and adding a 22nd-minute penalty.
Brown pulled back three points four minutes later after a high tackle on dynamic flanker Scott Dyson by Mather but Bird cancelled that out in the 28th minute later after a high tackle on Gray.
The only additional first-half score was a Bird penalty in the eighth minute of stoppage time.
Keighley needed an early response in the second half and needed to up their intensity, and prop Craig Spencer delivered with a try three minutes in after good work by Dyson.
Brown judged the diagonal wind well for the conversion to make it 16-10 and, although Keighley’s tackling was not as good as it could have been and Alnwick continued to make breaks and not capitalise on them, play was concentrated in the home half.
The Northumbrians were penalised for driving in from the side in the 48th minute and Brown slotted the penalty from outside the 22 to reduce the deficit to three points.
Alnwick still posed the occasional threat, as witnessed by a fine break by flanker James Hamilton, but they couldn’t take advantage of Keighley having to put second row Josh Hannah on the left wing after Sam Walker injured a cartilage and had to be helped off.
The try that put Keighley ahead came in the 59th minute from Dyson and, although the visitors knew that any kind of Alnwick score would stop them from being promoted, another worry was how much injury time referee Erasmus would play.
But after a match that lasted 97 minutes, including stoppage time in both halves, Keighley’s coaching quartet of Sheffield, Dave Lister, Kevin Young and Tim Brunskill, all their players and the 150 plus away fans in a crowd in excess of 500 could finally enjoy their deserved moment in the spotlight.