By Matt Baldwin
Clayton slip to agonising defeat!
Clayton fell to a rare and ultimately crushing reverse against title rivals Brighouse to virtually hand the league leaders shield to their opponents. If ever a league game could be billed as a winner takes all affair, this was that game. With Clayton's only previous defeat suffered at the hands of their opponents back in early October and Brighouse's the week before this clash, surprisingly at lowly Hollinwood, the game was played between two sides who had win percentages of 93% and 92%!
Noticeable from the off, the howling wind was to play a major part in proceedings, causing havoc to both sides kicking games. The first quarter was played at a fast pace, with neither side giving an inch in defence. A couple of half breaks resulted in good cover tackling and the game was interrupted by a series of knock on's, understandable, given the stake of matters.
After forcing another knock on deep in Brighouse territory, Clayton finally found a breakthrough. The ball was shipped to the short side by hooker Phil Redgrave and after hitting the line at pace, Ryan Wilkinson showed good footwork to slice over. The pressure had been mounting and Clayton had finally settled down to gain some control. Unfortunately, they did not kick on and make this early score pay. The Clayton pack were more than matching their counterparts, with ex Brighouse man Danny Murgatroyd and Christian Wooler particularly excelling. After a further spell of neither side gaining the upperhand, Brighouse struck, with not one, not two, but three vital and damaging blows, just before the half ended. Firstly, the lively Brighouse hooker, who looked a class above throughout, somehow powered over from acting half, despite the attention of three would be tacklers. Despite looking the more comfortable, Clayton had been pegged back to 4-4 on 35 minutes. What happened in the final 5 minutes of the half, shaped the rest of the season for Brighouse. That lively hooker again found his way to the chalk, side-stepping and ghosting between tacklers to cross out wide. Finally, after shipping the ball out wide early in the tackle count, the giant winger on Brighouse's left, bulldozed down the flank to beat all covering defenders and score between the uprights. Clayton were all at sea, with an apparent lack of discipline and composure just before half time resulting in a scoreline of 14-4.
Clayton knew they needed a massive effort in the second half and in fairness they threw everything at Brighouse. The wind now playing havoc with any attempted kicks forward, Clayton slowly and occasionally found a way to break through down the middle. With Devon Gurney having more of an influence with his running game, Clayton were making strides chancing their arm and shipping the ball, as well as looking to keep the ball alive more. It paid dividends, when using a short side play, hooker Phil Redgrave linked with Jimmy Waddington who freed David Harrison on the outside. He sprinted and weaved his way back between would be tacklers to score a much needed try. With 15 minutes left, Clayton were back in the game.
Frustratingly, that was the end of the scoring. As much as Clayton tried, they lacked the composure needed to get back level. Chances came and went, with several good opportunities blown. The ruck was becoming messy and to Clayton's added frustration and appeals, the referee refused to penalise or provide any respite to Clayton's plight. Brighouse to their credit comfortably saw out the remaining and last 5 minutes, attempting an ambitious drop goal along with pinning Clayton in their own half.
At full time, Brighouse could celebrate a hard fought, mammoth victory, whilst Clayton were left to reflect on what might have been. They were left with a home game against Worth Village to come, before the hugely anticipated Bradford Cup Final against Victoria Rangers, on Sunday 1 May.