The first win of the season cannot be far away, insist Ilkeston Elks, despite a fourth defeat on the bounce in Division One East of the Midlands League on Saturday.
In a close and entertaining game, Elks went down 24-19 at home to Northamptonshire outfit Bugbrooke, who have now won three of their opening four fixtures. But they turned in a much-improved performance to suggest they are starting to gel and will soon break their victory-drought -- maybe this coming Saturday when they visit newly-promoted Dronfield, one of only two sides below them in the early-season table.
Most encouraging for Elks were some terrific individual performances, notably from Joel Haigh, debutant Ese Palmer and man-of-the-match Joel Clay, who marked his return to the team by showing hunger for the ball in attack and putting in some big hits in defence.
A last-ditch tackle by Palmer prevented a certain score for Bugbrooke in the opening moments, although the visitors soon made amends by going 7-0 up.
With the slope in their favour, Elks responded well, and Haigh kicked a couple of penalties before half-time. The first was awarded for an off-the-ball obstruction, which resulted in a yellow card, and the second stemmed from an offside decision.
The hosts opened the second half with another try to make it 12-6, but Haigh replied with a third penalty and it wasn’t long before Elks had surged into a four-point lead as Dan Woods crashed over for a try, after good work by Chris Tipton, and Haigh struck the conversion.
Sadly, Bugbrooke hit back with two more scores of their own, including one under the posts that was converted, and they restrored their lead at 24-16. But it was harsh on Elks, who deserved reward from the game and, to their credit, they kept battling away. When the home side were penalised at a breakdown in the dying minutes, the clinical Haigh kicked another penalty to reduce the deficit.