Cleckheaton welcomed North One East play-off chasers Middlesbrough to Moorend last Saturday.
Their first encounter back in November proved to be one of Cleckheaton’s best performances of the season, dealing well with the sheer size and power of the Middlesbrough pack and in turn executing some smart and skilful attacking play to run out worthy winners.
Another keenly contested encounter was ultimately decided in favour of the visitors by Cleckheaton’s inability to deal with the same powerful pack in the same manner, coupled with a lack of quality lineout possession in the second half, and the visitors’ knack of slowing down possession at rucks and mauls.
Middlesbrough full- back Jack Bircham had the first chance to score but his penalty effort went wide.
Iain Gordon showed show it should be done by landing a penalty at the other end to edge Cleck ahead.
Bircham levelled the scores after 30 minutes but Gordon restored Cleckheaton’s lead with his second penalty.
Cleckheaton were seemingly taking control with the forwards having parity at the set piece, while Peter Murphy and Johno Marshall were prominent in home several attacks.
As half-time approached, Cleckheaton launched another attack but as Gordon threw out a speculative but potentially scoring pass, Bircham intercepted and sprinted 80 metres for the game’s first try which he converted to put Boro ahead.
The second half began with a controversial yellow card for Cleckheaton’s talisman Richard Piper which was hotly disputed by the home players and spectators.
Despite tireless work, inpaticular from regular Kestrels players Tom Brooke and Robin Bennet, as is usually the case the card proved to be decisive as the big Boro pack took advantage of their numerical advantage to drive a maul for their second try.
Although Gordon kicked two more penalties, Boro once more showed their forward prowess by driving another well orchestrated maul to the line for the decisive try which was converted, thus denying Cleck even a losing bonus point.
On reflection, while some inconsistencies in refereeing decisions didn’t help, Middlsbrough 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.