KEIGHLEY’S head coach Danny McGee had one word to sum up his feelings after their long unbeaten home record finally fell by the wayside.

After 34 wins and two draws in a sequence stretching back to October 2019, Keighley were beaten 23-17 by Bradford Salem on Saturday in a gripping Counties One Yorkshire encounter at Rose Cottage between two in-form sides who had each won their last nine league matches.

That Salem, who went a point clear of Keighley at the top of the table, punctured the record probably made it harder to take.

But it looked as if the home side would retain their Utley superiority when debutant full back Taylor Prell scored after 79 minutes, with Alex Brown’s easy conversion giving them a 17-15 advantage.

However, Salem full back Danny Belcher stroked over a penalty four minutes later and, if he had converted Logan Simpson’s breakaway try in the 86th minute, Keighley would even have been denied a losing bonus point.

Afterwards, McGee said: “Gutted”.

“We are not used to losing, especially down here, and I am gutted for the boys. We have put a lot into it, but in the end the result was probably right.

“We played for long enough with the ball in the first half, but were too slow to get out of the blocks and watched them play with the ball too much.

“Then when we realised that we could play with the ball we started to come back into it.

“But it is not the end of the season as there is still a lot of points to play for and points to be dropped, so we just keep on going.”

McGee added: “It looked as if we had the momentum in the second half when we started playing, but we should have done that earlier on.

“Also the penalty count was not good enough for us to get more momentum and that killed us as well.

“As for what went right, our set-piece on the whole was good and our shape was good. The heart of the lads was good, but not enough went right for us to win a game of rugby.

“We left some points out there in terms of kicks at goal (Alex Brown missed three penalties and a conversion), but it not just down to one person and we weren’t good enough overall.” 

Salem, playing towards the clubhouse, went in front in the second minute when winger Jake Green slotted a penalty from between the halfway line and Keighley’s 10-metre line.

The visitors stretched their advantage after 22 minutes when hooker James Brown forced his way over on a second surge, but it was a half to forget for his namesake Alex, who landed a penalty in the 32nd minute but missed three kickable attempts for the hosts.

Keighley News: Alex Brown, so reliable from the tee for years for Keighley, picked the worst time to have an afternoon to forget on Saturday.Alex Brown, so reliable from the tee for years for Keighley, picked the worst time to have an afternoon to forget on Saturday. (Image: John Ashton.)

Worse followed for Keighley just before half-time, when Salem centre Suaia Matagi danced his way over for a try after looking like he would be stopped.

Green’s conversion made it 15-3 but, after something of a stalemate, Keighley were awarded a penalty try in the 68th minute by referee James Bex, with Salem fly half Andy Robinson also seeing a yellow card.

However, Salem skipper Christian Baines looked like he got away with a neck-roll tackle five minutes later, with Keighley prop Sam Booker then being sin-binned, 13 minutes after he had a try ruled out for being just short.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, the home side hit back with a try by former Wharfedale three-quarter Prell, Brown’s conversion giving them the lead for the first time in the match.

But Salem, via a Belcher penalty and Simpson’s try from a grubber kick by scrum half Callum Smith, were not to be denied in what was a seismic encounter.

The upshot is that Salem lead the table on 69 points, with Keighley and Wetherby back in second and third on 68 apiece.

Only the champions are guaranteed to go up, and do not discount West Leeds either.

They currently sit fourth on 58 points, but have a game in hand on all three of the clubs above them.

Keighley now have a week off before travelling to fifth-placed Pocklington on Saturday, March 2.