ILKLEY came very close to upsetting the apple-cart at Stacks Field on Saturday, as a courageous and spirited performance ended in a narrow 24-17 defeat to Harrogate’s semi-professional outfit.

Indeed, were it not for a disappointing start, when the visitors scored 12 points in as many minutes, Ilkley would have claimed the spoils, scoring 17 points against 12 in the remainder of the game.

Still, a losing bonus point was better than nothing and a better return than last season’s haul of no points from the two matches.

The overnight wind and rain had eased off somewhat, though conditions were far from pleasant and the constant drizzle ensured that there were plenty of handling errors from both sides.

Ilkley saw little of the ball in the opening encounters and the visitors’ pack certainly punched its not inconsiderable weight, with a distinct edge in the line-out.

Their first try came after five minutes of sustained pressure, after which Ilkley conceded a penalty that was put into touch ten metres from their line.

A classic catch and drive set up the backs for a move and though the Ilkley defence looked to have the situation covered, a smart reverse pass in the tackle released Luke Riddell, who scored in the corner. The conversion was missed.

A penalty kick took Harrogate back to the Ilkley 22 and another clean line released their backs. Referee Mr Lewis took exception to Joe Lowes’ tackle on centre Sam Fox and the Ilkley flanker was carded.

Another line, another catch and drive and over went No. 8 Jonny Coser for the first of his hat-trick. This time, Cail Cookland’s kick was good and the Dalesmen found themselves 12-0 down.

It was a mountain to climb, but a great effort was made to achieve the summit. With more possession, the whole Ilkley 15 upped their efforts and took the game to their opponents.

These efforts were rewarded when full-back Pat Atkinson finished off a great move to fly over in the right hand corner, too far for Charles Ramsay to convert.

The Ilkley stand-off then typified the spirit of his side when he brought off a try-saving tackle when the Harrogate backs broke through the home defence.

Two five metre scrums went Harrogate’s way, but the Ilkley defence held firm and when the visitors held on too long in the tackle, Ramsey’s kick offered some relief.

Harrogate came back, but eventually a superb penalty kick by JH Johnson took his side right back into the Harrogate 22. A good take by Pat Power and the maul was formed to rumble purposefully towards the Harrogate line. As the maul went down, Ilkley sought a penalty but referee Lewis said no and Harrogate cleared.

Undeterred, Ilkley won another penalty. Atkinson found touch in the Harrogate 22, but the chance went begging as Ilkley lost their line.

Worst was to follow when Blake Morgan was penalised for holding on. Cookland’s kick looked to have gone into touch in goal, but referee Lewis signalled a line five metres out. With gloomy inevitability, a Harrogate clean take and drive led to Coser’s second try, the conversion attempt missing.

The remaining five minutes were all Ilkley, the Dalesmen setting up two decent attacking positions. The first was squandered with another lost line and Harrogate managed to hold up the Ilkley attackers after a lovely clean take by Power. The half-time whistle blew with Harrogate leading 17-5.

In the second half, Ilkley took the game by the scruff of the neck and tore into their opponents. Power and Atkinson both made good breaks, but the pick of them all came from Max Mackay, who made a good 40 metres before being hauled down under the posts.

Now a desperate Harrogate defence tackled too high for Mr Lewis’s liking and off went flanker Guy Coser.

Ilkley wisely opted for the scrum and when the maul was formed, the Ilkley pack powered its way over the line, Power emerging ball in hand as the try scorer. Ramsey made it 17-12 and it was game on.

Despite conceding a penalty for not releasing, Harrogate could not break the Ilkley defence down and it was Ilkley who touched down next to level the scores.

The visitors earned a second yellow for a high tackle on Ollie Holtam and it was Ilkley who showed they had a pretty decent pack.

A good line, followed by an even better scrum set up the opportunity. With several of the Ilkley backs joining in the fun, over went the Ilkley pack and this time, it was Blake Morgan adding to the scoresheet. Ramsay’s difficult kick drifted wide.

Then Harrogate was awarded a penalty from the kick-off for ungentlemanly conduct, as Mr Lewis took exception to Ilkley’s celebrations.

The kick took Harrogate into the Ilkley 22 and clearly shaken, the home side had some defending to do.

The Harrogate pack smelled blood and when Ilkley went off-side at one scrum, Harrogate opted for another, from which Coser bagged his third try. Cookland’s kick was good.

Another try for Ilkley would have been just reward for a gutsy performance and for the remaining few minutes, this looked likely. Tempers were fraying, the game was getting feisty, but with Ilkley pounding away deep in the Harrogate 22, Mr Lewis blew for no-side, dead on time, allowing no injury-time at all.