Yorkshire Division One: Keighley 12 Leodiensian 27

ON a day when 26 matches were postponed in the Northern divisions due to waterlogged pitches, including at Bradford & Bingley and Bradford Salem, Keighley at least showed the benefit of having an artificial grass pitch.

However, there was little evidence that the home side will have anything but a battle to stay up in Yorkshire Division One after their 27-12 defeat at home to Leodiensian, whose backs showed a slickness in attack that the hosts could not match.

Keighley lock Smith Brown knocked on from Leos’ kick-off and the home side were caught dozing when visiting scrum-half Will Watkinson went over unattended from his own tap penalty in the sixth minute.

The Rose Cottage side also lost their discipline a little towards the end of the match when it became clear that they would not even get a losing bonus point – scrum-half George Marshall was sin-binned for stamping in the 74th minute having been penalised for dissent in the first half – but replacement Will Armitage reckons that his team have enough about them to avoid relegation.

Keighley are only above Pontefract, who are in the second relegation berth, by points difference and former skipper Armitage, playing regularly again after 18 months out due to anterior cruciate and medial collateral knee ligament injuries, admitted: “The previous two weeks have been up there so there is a bit of disappointment.

“But we are all in it together, are 100 per cent behind the coaching staff and have no doubts that we can turn it around.

“We have enough about us to do that. No-one wants to be in a relegation fight but we have enough skills and ability not to be down there. We just need to back ourselves.”

Armitage, who did manage to get a couple of games in at the end of last season, could sense that there were problems for Keighley against Leos even before the kick-off.

He said: “Something wasn’t right in the warm-up and then they got that early try when we were a bit asleep.

“We got ourselves back into it with a try but they countered on us and our defence was lax when we have been top notch in the last few weeks.”

In offence, passes were too often going around the ankles or over the head, and Armitage explained: “We try and play that quick, expansive style of rugby and it was a bad day at the office for our team-training moves.

“Then the penalties did start to come quick and fast and maybe we wanted it too much.

“We looked upon this as a win beforehand but they played better rugby and deserved to win.”

Leos half-back Watkinson, who was their man of the match, added the conversion to his early piece of quick thinking, and the sense that it might not be Keighley’s day was heightened when fly-half Alan Ebbrell then put the kick-off out on the full.

Nevertheless, centre Sean Kelly – a shining light for the home side throughout with his strong carries and a contender for man of the match every week – and prop Craig Spencer then set up the position for No 8 Will McLaughlin to pick a defensive mismatch by bouncing off a weak-tackling prop to score a try in the 13th minute.

Full-back Oli Mitchell, who was Keighley’s man of the match, stroked over a fine conversion to level the scores but the visitors from Alwoodley then enjoyed a period of dominance, and only stern defence stopped them from scoring a try in a move that seemed to include not only a forward pass but also a potential crossing.

There was no stopping Leos in the 24th minute though when a fine move was finished off by winger Ashley Britton after good work by No 8 Steve Costello and centre Ryan O’Connor.

Watkinson’s conversion made it 14-5 but a rare home pocket of pressure was snuffed out when Marshall spoke out of turn heading towards half-time, with referee Chris Binnie reversing his penalty decision.

Leos then blew the chance of a third try when O’Connor ran a great angle in the 38th minute and his diagonal run meshed into a mazy run which ended when fly half Jamie Dutton knocked on his switch pass.

They didn’t have to wait long into the second half to get it, however, as Costello scored in the 45th minute and Watkinson again added the extras to give Leos clear water at 21-7.

O’Connor knocked on when through but Keighley responded with a try by flanker Tom Willson in the 55th minute after good work by skipper and back-rower Shaun Minikin, Ebbrell and Adam Horsfall.

Any chance of victory or a losing bonus point were then snuffed out by Watkinson penalties in the 60th and 62nd minutes.

Horsfall and fellow replacement Luke Currie continued to take the fight to Leos but the die was cast and a frustrated Marshall was shown his yellow card with six minutes left.

There were plus points for Keighley, however, with Armitage saying: “Sean played fantastically for us and it was good to see ‘Giddy’ (Horsfall) back after his wrist injury and Oli Mitchell back after his knee injury.

“Also playing well there was Alan at 10 and Foxy (James Fox) and Smith Brown back in the second row.

“There are a lot of positives to take out of it but a hell of a lot to work on as well.”

Armitage is another on the comeback trail and is also hoping to play a part for Keighley in what he admits will be his last campaign, saying: “My fitness is a lot better – my knee is definitely a lot stronger and I get round the park more - but my new job as a sports coach at Riddesden St Mary’s School is helping me as before I was in insurance at a desk.”

He also appreciates the benefits of an artificial pitch, saying: “We always play unless it is icy and the good thing is that you are not in the shower for half an hour trying to get the mud off you!”