Keighley 29 Middlesbrough 10

MIDDLESBROUGH, with their fleet-footed backs and combative pack, proved tough opponents for Keighley last season, winning both matches in Yorkshire Division One and a second-round encounter at Rose Cottage in the Yorkshire Shield.

This time, however, Borough, shorn of many of their better players, including skipper Pete Homan (dislocated finger), who was one of two players to cry off on Saturday morning, could not take a decisive edge in the pack that the first scrum had suggested.

Their backs were also up against a brick wall in defence, with a generally happy Keighley’s head coach Dan McGee admitting: “It was our defence that won it for us.”

Nevertheless, Keighley were by no means at full strength themselves, with hooker Ryan Gibson heading to New Zealand for seven months, flanker Tom Willson benching as he was playing for Yorkshire Under-20s the following day, plus James Fox and Allan Ebbrell both being injured and Luke Currie and Dave Smith (working) both unavailable.

The hosts were unlucky in the second minute when Middlesbrough’s touch judge ruled that Keighley centre Adam Horsfall had slithered into touch in midfield before releasing the ball, while both teams were guilty of conceding early penalties.

Then home winger Joe Copperwaite, who was usually a threat in attack, had to be alert in defence to snaffle a Boro chip ahead in the 12th minute.

Three minutes later, Keighley were ahead out of the blue when fly-half Alex Brown charged down opposite number Matthew Todd’s kick out of defence, with the ball bouncing up obligingly for the home skipper to score.

Brown missed the conversion from halfway between the posts and the left-hand touchline, and Todd’s afternoon then got worse when he could only hit the left-hand upright from an eminently kickable penalty in the 19th minute after Keighley were offside just inside their 22.

The home line came under its first serious threat straight afterwards as Middlesbrough, who only named two replacements, attacked with intent down the left wing, but after many phases the ball squirted lose.

An unpromising pass bounced into Keighley full back Jake Duxbury’s hands when they regained possession but the counter-attack was on, with Duxbury crowning it with a 22nd-minute try after a kick ahead was fumbled by Brendan Hill.

Brown’s conversion made it 12-0, but the visitors enjoyed the better of the next ten minutes, being penalised from a catch and drive after kicking a penalty to the right-hand corner before Brown had to put a shift on to drop on a dangerous loose ball after Todd had kicked ahead in midfield.

There were howls of protest from Middlesbrough after referee Andy Morton (South Yorkshire Society) ruled in favour of Keighley after a scrum collapsed, and the hosts then scored a timely third try just before the interval.

Good work on the chase by Horsfall won Keighley a scrum, and a minute later No 8 Leigh Sugden showed characteristic strength to drive over the line from close range, taking two or three Borough players with him.

Brown’s conversion made it 19-0, and while Keighley headed for the sanctuary of the changing rooms on a cold but windless afternoon, Middlesbrough stayed out on the field, with doubtless some telling words being exchanged in their huddle.

The second half did not start well for the home side, with centre Sean Kelly being sin-binned two minutes in for a high tackle on Todd, but the hosts survived being a man down without conceding any points.

A Duxbury-inspired counter-attack down the left wing ultimately ended in a knock on, and Middlesbrough were then again puzzled when a collapsed-scrum ruling went against them.

The visitors finally got on the scoreboard on the hour when an attack almost brought a try on the right before the ball was switched to the other flank for winger Harry Bryce to go round his man and score.

Todd’s conversion made it 19-7, and there was a further setback for Keighley when Horsfall was sin-binned in the 62nd minute for a high tackle on Nathan Goodison after the Borough winger ran back the kick off.

Home fans shouted for an equalising yellow card four minutes later when Todd was guilty of a high tackle but Morton ruled that a penalty was sufficient.

In the 68th minute, Brown stroked over a penalty to put Keighley three scores ahead but the visitors still had their eye on a losing bonus point, and came close to a try when lock Euan Tremlett knocked on in the 75th minute in the face of committed Keighley defence.

Todd popped over a penalty five minutes later to bring Borough within a converted try of that losing bonus point, but just when it looked as if Keighley would have to settle for a three-try win, Copperwaite rounded off a largely satisfactory afternoon for the home side by intercepting just inside the visitors’ half eight minutes into injury time and running between the Borough posts for Keighley’s bonus-point fourth try.

Brown’s conversion, which made it 29-10, was the last action of the match, but McGee then reminded his players that they still have much to work on.

Despite a sixth win in eight matches which have greatly diminished the chances of relegation, he said: “We are determined and everyone works for each other, and we don’t often beat Middlesbrough, but I don’t think that we were clinical enough in attack.

“Also our eagerness meant that we were offside at times, but now we need to build that confidence in our attack.”

Keighley, who remain 10th, are now 11 points clear of the drop-zone, and are only three points behind neighbours Bradford Salem, who have a game in hand.

On Saturday, Keighley are at Selby, who have dropped to second-from-bottom after Hullensians’ 24-22 home victory over Old Rishworthians.