After defeats in each of their first four games, Ilkeston Elks’ season finally got up and running with a breakthrough win, inspired by the boot of Joel Haigh.
Playing at fly-half for the first time this term, Haigh kicked 19 points as Elks won 34-24 at Dronfield, one of only two teams below them in the Division One East table of the Midlands League.
And the victory was recognised as a triumph for the experience and know-how of playing at this lofty level for the last few years. Good work from the back row was noted throughout the game, while James Vincent enjoyed a strong debut and Sam Humphreys turned in a man-of-the-match display for his clean lineout takes and commitment to the cause, making tackles all over the park.
Kicking downhill in the opening half, Ilkeston promptly lost their first lineout and had to absorb a full ten minutes of Dronfield pressure and possession that eventually told with the game’s opening try.
Elks had the better of the next ten minutes and responded with Haigh’s first two penalties to edge them in front. But they soon trailed 12-6 as the hosts created an overlap for their right-winger to score.
The penalty count began to mount against Dronfield, who also received a yellow card, and by the interval, Elks led 16-12. Ese Palmer burst through three or four ineffective tackles to touch down behind the posts and Haigh not only converted but also added a third penalty in the 40th minute.
Despite going uphill in the second period, Ilkeston’s better discipline allowed them to take control of the game. And when they were awarded another penalty, this time for a high tackle, Haigh was in no mood to miss from 25 metres.
Not long afterwards, Dronfield received a second yellow card, helping Elks to capitalise and increase their lead to 22-12 with a fifth Haigh penalty, this time in front of the posts. And by the 25th minute of the half, the score read 27-12 as Haigh launched a long, diagonal kick over the defensive line and Kartar Soar steamed up the left wing, gathering the ball to touch down for a try.
With the home team back to full strength, they replied with a score of their own, which was converted. But Elks all but sealed their victory when striking again 11 minutes later. Good pressure and interference off a scrum by Soar forced a lineout on the home five-metre line, and after several exchanges in midfield, the visitors opted for a scrum ten metres out. A couple more surges cleared the way through for Chris Tipton to touch down next to the left post.
Dronfield did have the final say, creating an overlap on the right that led to their fourth try of the match. But it was no more than a consolation.
Elks return home this weekend when they entertain mid-table Huntingdon and District, who have won three and lost two of their opening five fixtures of the season. Their following league match is at Wellingborough on Saturday, October 22.