HALIFAX maintained their 100 per cent start to the 2012 Co-operative Championship season with a nail-biting win over neighbours Keighley.
In a tight-as-a-drum derby contest, it took a perfectly taken drop goal from Fax’s veteran stand off Paul Handforth 13 minutes from the end to clinch victory over a fiercely determined Cougars line up.
But while Boss Karl Harrison was grateful for the three league points, he was less than impressed with the performance of the home side.
With the Keighley defence in smothering form, Fax struggled to find any kind of speed or continuity in attack as a 12-12 half time stalemate dragged on and on.
And it was only after Handforth had shown the intelligence to take the one point before the tension really set in that they managed to close the game down, keeping the Cougars penned almost exclusively in their own half until the final hooter.
Harrison made one change to the side that had performed so well at Sheffield, bringing young forward Joe Chandler onto the bench in place of the former Batley prop Sean Hesketh.
The opening minutes were largely memorable for the length of time referee Jamie Leahy allowed the Cougars to lie on in the tackle – setting the tone for 40 minutes which saw just one penalty awarded - with Paul March involved in an early incident that saw Jim Gannon lose possession close to his own line.
Fax looked good with the ball until they were within sight of the Cougars try line, with half back Anthony Thackeray twice losing possession in promising positions.
They finally clicked nine minutes in, captain Sean Penkywicz working a one-two with back rower Adam Robinson wide on the left and then sliding in an inch-perfect grubber kick which Thackeray pounced on under the posts.
Lee Paterson converted for a 6-0 lead but Fax were under pressure almost immediately after Steve Tyrer knocked on at the play the ball, with March again in close attendance.
And the visitors made their chance count immediately, back rower Richard Jones racing over from a short pass and namesake Danny levelling at 6-6.
Fax’s riposte was immediate, forcing an error deep in Keighley territory, the ball switching left again and Penkywicz putting Tyrer over on the short side.
Paterson whacked the conversion over from the sideline for 12-6 before the game settled into something resembling a normal pattern.
Keighley had another chance when Paterson knocked down Sam Obst’s high kick, with Gannon’s knock down and then Tyrer’s diving save from Obst’s grubber giving them three successive sets on the home try line.
They eventually made it count, Danny Jones running into a hole that appeared to have been made for him by a decoy runner and just about scrambling round Ryan Fieldhouse to touchdown.
The stand off converted to leave things nicely balanced at 12-12 after half an hour.
Keighley were visibly growing in confidence now, aided by a ton of quality possession, and Fax were under the cosh again as Obst’s short kick forced another drop out.
The home side survived though, and a series of raking Paul Handforth kicks eased the pressure as half time approached.
The Cougars still had a gilt-edged chance when replacement hooker James Davey raced clear, but a fine tackle from Fieldhouse and a subsequent knock on saw the opportunity wasted.
Fax had half a chance a split second before the hooter, but Paterson could not reel in Penkywicz’s chip and the sides went to the break at 12-12.
Keighley began the second period on the front foot, the former Elland and Fax prop Andy Shickell being held up virtually on the line three minutes in.
Shickell then forced his former teammate Jamie Bloem, running the touchline against his old club, to raise his flag after dropping the elbow on Fieldhouse.
Fax ran the ball, forcing a drop out at the end of the set, but when Penkywicz fired a bullet pass out to Ben Heaton, the young centre just couldn’t hold the ball with the line open.
The home side were definitely in a different gear now though, with the visitors finding it harder to clear their lines than they had done before the interval.
In attack, they were directing all the traffic down the left towards Obst, and that should have paid dividends when the little Australian conceded a penalty and Ross Divorty and Tyrer worked the short side beautifully, only for Wayne Reittie to be too far back to take what would have been the scoring pass.
The scores were still deadlocked at the 60 minute mark and Fieldhouse had to be alert to claim a clever kick from March as Demetriou closed in.
Craig Ashall’s kick forced a fumble from Richie Barnett, but with both defences giving little or nothing away, it was already clear that this would be the proverbial game of inches.
Handforth had obviously come to the same conclusion and with 13 minutes to go hammered over a drop goal from 25 metres out.
A 13-12 lead was scarcely any kind of buffer, but it should have been seven points with eight minutes remaining when Thackeray sliced clean through the defence, but lost the ball in Craig Moss’s desperate tackle over the tryline.
As it turned out though, that was all academic as Fax closed out the win comfortably enough.