An interception try and a Cleckheaton yellow card help Middlesborough's promotion hopes
On this bright but breezy afternoon Cleckheaton welcomed third placed promotion chasing Middlesborough to Moorend. The season’s first encounter between the sides back in November, proved to be one of the 1st XV’s best performances of the year. Cleckheaton came out worthy winners that day, dealing well with the sheer size and power of the Middlesborough pack and in turn executing some smart and skilful attacking play. Another keenly contested encounter was in store and this turned out to be the case, though on this occasion it was the Teeside men who took home the spoils, as Cleck were unable to deal with the same powerful pack in the effective way they had earlier in the season. This coupled with a lack of quality lineout possession in the second half and the visitors' knack of slowing down possession at rucks and mauls, ultimately gave Middlesborough the winning advantage.
Middlesbrough full back Jack Bircham had the first chance to score early in the game but his penalty effort went wide. Iain Gordon however, was successful for the home side giving Cleckheaton a 3 – 0 lead. Bircham levelled the scores for the visitors on the half hour mark but Gordon responded for Cleck with his second penalty conversion. Cleckheaton looked to be taking control of the game, with the forwards having parity at the set piece and with both Pete Murphy and Johnno Marshall taking a prominent position in several attacks by the Moorenders. As halftime approached Cleckheaton were pressing Middlesborough hard and had made good progress to the visitors’ 22. Iain Gordon spotted an opportunity to put a man through a hole in the defensive line and threw out a long, potentially try scoring pass. Unfortunately for Cleckheaton, Bircham took the gamble to shoot out of the line and was rewarded when he intercepted the ball and sprinted eighty metres for the game's first try. He converted his own score to give Middlesborough a 10 - 6 lead at the interval.
The second half began in the worse possible way for Cleckheaton, when a yellow card was controversially shown to talisman back-rower, Richard Piper, for a high tackle. The decision was hotly disputed by both the home crowd and the home players but nonetheless the home side where down to 14 men against one of the biggest packs in the league. Despite tireless work from in particular, Tom Brooke and Robin Bennett who have played the majority of the season with the Kestrels but have really stepped up to the mark in the last two games, the sin-binning proved to be decisive. The big Boro’ pack took advantage of their numerical advantage to drive a maul for their second try of the afternoon. The score remained unconverted and two further penalty kicks from Gordon kept Cleckheaton in touching distance at 15 – 12. However it would be Boro’ that had the last say, when once more they showed their forward prowess by driving another well orchestrated maul to the line for the decisive try. The conversion was added to give a final score of 22 - 12 and thus deny Cleckheaton even a losing bonus point.
On reflection whilst some inconsistencies in refereeing decisions didn't help the cause, Middlesborough ran out worthy winners. Cleckheaton need to steel themselves to finish the season as well as they can, with two remaining league fixtures and the Yorkshire cup still to fight for, the Moorend men cannot afford to let the season peter out on a negative vibe. Three wins would end the season on a positive note and see Cleckheaton earn a place in the Yorkshire Cup semi final in consecutive years.