Yorkshire Division One: Keighley 26 Beverley 13

NOT many Keighley fans were feeling optimistic ahead of their home match against fourth-placed Beverley in Yorkshire Division One.

After all, Keighley, who are only 10 points above the relegation line in 10th place, lost the reverse fixture 46-12 in November and had been beaten by the East Yorkshire side the last nine times that they had met in the league, only winning three out of 15 overall.

Following a bright start by the hosts, it seemed that normal service would be resumed as the visitors were threatening tries with virtually every attack via their pacy backs.

However, Keighley weathered the storm to lead 11-6 at half-time and showed their resilience to hit back from a harsh penalty try ruling, which put Beverley 13-11 ahead, to end up dominant in both the scoreline and in terms of body language.

“I wouldn’t say that it was our best performance of the season,” said Keighley’s head coach Danny McGee (who opted for the 18-13 win at Old Crossleyans in January), “but it was our most rewarding and our most enjoyable, and our second-half display was very good.

“We have only been playing in bits beforehand, playing in flashes, but the lads have answered the questions that we asked of them during training.

“We got away with things a bit in the first-half but that try just before half-time gave us momentum going into the second-half, and we pushed them off the ball in the scrum towards the end.”

Both Keighley and Beverley won early penalties from referee Kevin Weston (North Yorkshire Society), and the visitors took the lead in the fifth minute via a penalty from fly-half Phil Duboulay.

However, they blew “three or four chances”, according to their coach Ian Spence, who added: “You can’t afford to miss opportunities like that.”

With several Beverley overlaps going begging, Keighley were glad to hang in there, and did not show themselves as an attacking force until skipper Alex Brown’s well-timed pass gave full-back Rich Tillotson the chance to stretch his legs in the 16th minute.

Fly-half Brown levelled from off the kicking tee two minutes later from just inside the 10-metre line and, with Tillotson again prominent, Brown slotted over a second penalty in the 20th minute to put the hosts 6-3 ahead.

Six minutes later, Beverley pulled level via Duboulay’s second penalty after centre Sean Kelly was sin-binned for persistent Keighley team offences.

However, there was no further damage when the home side were short-handed, although the withdrawal of No 8 Leigh Sugden when Kelly returned (Josh Hannah proved a more than useful deputy) did raise some eyebrows among Keighley fans, especially as their scrum was in retreat.

That was put to the back of people’s minds, though when the hosts scored with the last play of the half, with Kelly showing excellent strength to force his way over.

Leading 11-6 after what was in many ways a torrid first-half was a real bonus to Keighley, and Beverley’s injury worries mounted as they lost centre Will Turnbull at half-time with a shoulder ligament injury (he had to have his shirt cut off after the match he was in so much pain) to add to the withdrawal of replacement prop Sam Kerry (knee injury) just before the interval.

Kelly was again in referee Weston’s firing line for a late tackle three minutes into the second-half, and lock Adam Kemp was then pinged for picking the ball out of the back of a Beverley scrum.

It seemed certain that the visitors would score, but with Sugden back on (for mobile flanker Tom Willson, while Dave Smith also replaced injured prop Craig Spencer), Keighley somehow survived.

The reprieve proved temporary though as six minutes later Tillotson, who had to come off with a head injury, was penalised for a high tackle, with Weston awarding a penalty try, despite Keighley having some covering defenders.

Beverley were now leading 13-11 but the pendulum then swung inexorably in the home side’s favour.

They attacked left in the 53rd minute and knocked on when they should have moved the ball right, and Brown missed a pot at goal three minutes later.

Keighley’s head of steam could not be denied, however, and scrum-half Lucas Uren capitalised on a Kemp break to score on the hour, with Brown’s conversion giving them an 18-13 advantage.

A great run in the 66th minute by left winger Josh Slingsby, who was Keighley’s man of the match (it must have been difficult to single one player out after a complete team performance), led to a penalty, which Brown slotted to extend the lead to eight points, and the biggest cheer of the afternoon was that dominant Keighley scrum four minutes later.

Slingsby then scooted over in the first minute of added time to put the icing on the cake of a display that had gone from being second best to being dominant in the space of 70 minutes.

Hooker Joe Kaye was presented with a first-team tie after the match for playing 20 matches this season.

Keighley have a vital match at third-from-bottom Hullensians on Saturday, but only need one point from their last three matches to be mathematically safe from relegation.

On Friday, April 5, Keighley have a league match at home to Heath, who are currently second (8pm).