FOUR successive victories, including Saturday's 21-9 win against Ilkley, may not have improved Cleckheaton’s position greatly in Regional One North East.

They have merely climbed two places from seventh. However, although this was a scrappy win, the home team’s defensive resilience again shone through against Ilkley.

Having conceded eight tries in their 56-31 defeat at Alnwick on October 1, Cleckheaton have since conceded only six in those four victories, and only one try in the past fortnight.

“All of the win was down to our defence,” admitted Cleckheaton’s player-coach Thiu Barnard. “For the last three to four weeks we have really worked on our defence and it has come through massively.

“When we had our week off (October 8) we decided that we really needed to up our defence, it has paid off and we are happy.

“Our defence was even better here than in the win over Heath the previous week, and if you want to finish in the top half of this league then you have to be good defensively.”

Barnard added: “Our set-piece also went really well, especially at scrum time, and we just rode out their wave when we were under pressure.

“We didn’t force anything and were just patient. We waited for an opportunity to turn them over or make a mistake, and they never really looked like scoring a try.”

Apart from restricting eighth-placed Ilkley, who beat Cleckheaton twice last season, to three penalties, the Moorenders also scored the game’s only two tries.

The first came after 17 minutes when a wickedly-spinning deflected kick through was knocked on by a visitor, and winger Jack Marshall then combined with man-of-the-match Mikey Hayward for the latter to score.

Cleckheaton’s second try on 80 minutes put a losing bonus point out of Ilkley’s reach, with centre Dominic Brambani progressing at pace before finding Marshall on his shoulder, winger Dom Flanagan then doing well to score in the right-hand corner as Ilkley tried to push him into touch.

As for the attacking elements of their game, Barnard, who is determined to turn out as often as he can now his playing career is drawing towards a close, said: “There are always things to work on. We were very good until we got to their 22 and then tried to force things too early, and if we had been more clinical that score could have been a lot better.

“But at the moment we just want to win games. There will be games where we get five points (an extra point for four or more tries), but the weather didn’t help us here.

“It must not have been a great game to watch but our front row deserve credit for their 80 minutes.

“As for myself, I am just trying to provide leadership on the pitch, teaching the guys, guiding them into the right areas and showing them what to do.

“On the coaching front, Matthew Piper and myself bounce ideas off each other really well. He will make a really good coach one day and has a lot of potential.”

As for their position in the table, Barnard admitted: “If you had told me in June that after nine games we would be fifth in the table then I would have taken it. As for the rest of the season we will just take it a game at a time.”

With the floodlights on just before kick-off and the weather gloomy with intermittent drizzle, the match, with a greasy ball, was not a classic, with the first chance falling to the hosts in the 10th minute.

Ilkley full back Harry Smith’s clearance kick near their 22 was charged down by his opposite number Bailey Smith, who then fumbled the ball on the floor.

However, a great scrum drive by the home pack won them a penalty, which fly half Dale Breakwell slotted.

Four minutes later, Breakwell managed a collector’s item - a superb drop goal from between the home 10-metre line and halfway - to make it 6-0, Ilkley centre JH Johnson replying a minute later with a penalty of his own.

Then came Hayward’s try, which Breakwell converted, before Cleckheaton survived the greatest threat to their line, Ilkley’s man of the match, scrum half Archie Elgood, making a break in midfield and chipping ahead only to knock on with the line beckoning.

Lock Peter Erskine and prop Rob Sigsworth then attacked with intent down the right only for the move to end with a knock-on.

Harry Smith was then wide with a drop-goal attempt before, in injury time, Bailey Smith was sin-binned by referee Adam Robson (Yorkshire Society) for a high tackle, only for Johnson to miss the penalty.

Trailing 13-3 at half-time, Cleckheaton escaped a potential yellow card for a high tackle early in the half but could then not profit from an Ilkley goal-line drop-out.

Johnson’s inventiveness won Ilkley a penalty in the 67th minute after he was baulked after chipping through, and he slotted the penalty to put Ilkley, who gave debuts to winger Finn Kelleher and replacement Fred Gazeley, back within range.

Breakwell’s 50-22 brought Cleckheaton no reward but he then kicked a 57th-minute penalty to make it 16-6, Johnson replying in kind five minutes later.

No 8 Stephen Costello was then twice involved with Johnson, with Oscar Simpson and then Elgood in support but the attacks ended respectively after a clash of heads and a knock-on.

However, Ilkley’s chance of an equalising converted try ended with Cleckheaton’s second try at the death, with the home defence then keeping their ‘clean sheet’.