Ilkeston travelled to second-placed Syston on Saturday but despite leading after 51 minutes eventually lost out 30-10 to their fellow promotion hopefuls.
Both sides started well and had scoring opportunities but knock ons from both halted any progress, while defences were on top as each side probed for any openings.
Elks were then penalised at a scrum and Syston opted for goal but the kick was pushed left after 12 minute, but Elks were quickly penalised again at another scrum and this time the kick was struck cleanly to open the score at 3-0 two minutes later.
The kick off was returned well by Adam Corcoran and Jono Falls who was eventually bundled into touch. Chris Tipton stole the line out and this time Syston were penalised, but Falls’ shot at goal was pushed left after 18 minutes.
Most of the play was around half way as both sides struggled to get past strong defences, Syston had a good opportunity in the Elks 22 from a line out which was driven by the forwards. The ball was recycled but knocked on and Jacob Heath counter attacked and fed Alex Ayres who made ground to the Syston 22 before being tackled into touch, Elks stole another line out and Syston were caught off side, this time Falls making no mistake with the kick and the scores were level at 3-3 on 30 minutes, which is how it would stay at half-time despite Ilkeston producing some promising attacks, including at one point being just five metres from the Syston line but unable to make the chance pay.
Elks were soon under pressure after kick off for the second-half and great work from Matt McGuire earned a penalty and allowed Elks to clear. From the line out the ball was carried well by Corcoran, Greg Taylor and Tipton taking play to the Syston 22, Elks got the line-out throw and when the ball was caught by Tipton and moved right, Jack Pottinger came on a great angle and burst through but a brilliant last ditch tackle halted his run.
Elks were seeing some good territory and possession but the Syston defence, led by their back row was strong.
But Elks pressure finally told when from another Tipton line out the pack drove on and the ball was moved right. Greg Taylor made an incisive break and offloaded to Partington to score under the posts on 51 minutes, Falls with the extras making it 3-10.
Syston responded well and were soon in the Elks 22. They had a long spell of pressure and it eventually told as they scored out wide, the conversion well struck to level the scores at 10-10 on the hour mark.
Elks came back again and had a great opportunity in the Syston 22, but the ball was spun right and a long pass intended for the wing was intercepted by Syston who made 60 metres up field. Elks scrambled well in defence but gave away a penalty which Syston kicked to take the lead 13-10 after 67 minutes.
Elks were seeing plenty of possession but Syston’s rush defence was stifling any opportunities out wide.
Syston were using the catch and drive well from line-outs and making good ground, they worked their way into the Elks 22 and had several pick and drives at the Elks line. The defence was working well but pressure told and Elks were penalised, the penalty made worse as Greg Taylor received a yellow card on 75 minutes. Syston took the penalty kick to make it 16-10.
Elks tried to run from deep but Syston saw their chance with the extra man and were clinical in finishing off the Elks, as they scored two further tries which were both converted to make the final score 30-10, which flattered Syston although they deserved their victory.
Elks had several opportunities to score, especially in the first-half, but discovered the hard way that if you don’t take them against top sides then you are punished.
The team all worked had with both second rows putting in a shift. Richard Hutchinson played well but Man of the Match went to Chris Tipton who ran strong and took many clean line outs.
This weekend sees a break from league action as the Elks visit Paviors for a NLD Cup tie, kick off 2.15.
Meanwhile, the Stute will be hosting its annual Winter Real Ale Festival, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.