FOR a few fleeting minutes, it looked as if Cleckheaton might win their Regional One North East home clash against second-placed Alnwick.

Trailing 14-6, fifth-placed Cleck scored two tries in three minutes via their lively backs Mikey Hayward and Tom Hainsworth to lead 18-14.

However, maybe it was then that the cold virus that had affected several of their players kicked in, with Alnwick going on to score 17 unanswered points to deny the hosts even a bonus point.

“It was frustrating,” admitted Cleckheaton’s player-coach Thiu Barnard.

“A couple of things went against us – we lost a couple of line-outs and scrums, vital areas at key points in the game, and if we had won those areas it could have been a different story.

“You could see that Alnwick have played at this level a lot longer than us and we had five or six big players playing despite illness, so the build-up to the game wasn’t great.

“But we were still in it until the last 20 minutes and could have won. You take your chances and you win.

“We are a good side when we turn it on but we are still struggling with getting those top two inches 100 per cent right.

“But that comes from training, and it is a matter of learning from opponents like this.”

Barnard praised centre Hainsworth, Cleckheaton’s man of the match, and the front row of Niall Jackson, Robin Bennett and Andy Piper for playing 80 minutes when two of them were injured.

Fly-half Dale Breakwell also had a good game with his passing and tactical kicking and he was the first to threaten the (non-working) scoreboard, putting a drop-goal attempt wide in the fifth minute.

However, five minutes later, he put the home side ahead with a penalty from just inside the opposition’s half.

Too often, Cleckheaton did not claim Alnwick’s kicks downfield on the full and the visitors responded well, with the prolific Evan Moir – divisional Golden boot winner last season and second so far this term – levelling with a penalty of his own in the 16th minute.

Then concerted pressure led to a try for centre Sam Eggleston six minutes later, Moir hitting the bar with the conversion attempt.

Cleckheaton missed a golden opportunity in the 25th minute after a break by Hainsworth, with Barnard going for the line himself when he should have passed as his side had a three on one.

Breakwell then had two more shots at goal, again from distance, falling short from just outside the 10-metre line after 35 minutes but nailing one in first-half injury time to make the half-time score 8-6 in favour of Alnwick.

Cleckheaton made a sloppy start to the second half of what was a very competitive match, knocking on from the kick-off and giving away a penalty, which Moir converted for 11-6.

Six minutes after the interval, Cleckheaton full-back Jack Marshall was sin-binned by switched-on referee Kristian Garland for a deliberate knock-on, Moir again doing the necessary with the penalty.

Then, almost from nowhere, Cleckheaton’s backs showed their pace to put the cherry and whites in front.

Hainsworth sent Hayward away for a try in the 58th minute, before the former went over himself two minutes later, Breakwell landing the first conversion but hooking the second wide.

Cleckheaton were now 18-14 ahead but had few attacking opportunities in the last 20 minutes as Alnwick ramped up the pressure.

Desperate home defence was not enough, and flanker Ali Blackett scored a try in the 67th minute to give Alnwick a lead they would not lose.

Moir’s conversion made it 21-18 and six minutes later, Eggleston’s break was backed up by replacement Charlie Farmer, Cleckheaton conceding a penalty in front of their posts.

A second penalty followed and winger Alex Robson ran laterally behind the scrum before cutting through emphatically to score a try.

Moir drop-kicked the conversion wide as the ball fell off the tee while he was running up to it.

Moir ended any hopes of a losing bonus point for Cleckheaton with a try in injury time.

Cleckheaton, who stay fifth, need to make two more home matches count in the next three weeks, starting with sixth-placed Doncaster Phoenix – who beat leaders Billingham on Saturday – this coming weekend.