Injury, illness and unavailability forced Market Rasen and Louth RFC to field a much-changed side as they fell to a sixth straight league defeat on Saturday.
With Ilkeston’s emphatic victory over high-flying Kettering the previous weekend Rasen’s latest Midlands One east clash appeared a daunting task, but the Elks also had their own selection issues and the game became a war of attrition.
Ilkeston had first use of a stiff breeze and Rasen were forced to play from deep as the wind prevented relieving clearance kicks. As expected the visitors had the better of the attacking exchanges, but the Red and Greens offered stout resistance, mingled with a few attacks of their own.
But Rasen were struck a blow when their most experienced back, centre Peter Everton, was forced through injury. Moments later Ilkeston lost centre Alexander Ayres, whose strong running had created problems for the home defence, with a leg injury.
Rasen held out until lock Leigh Dearden was yellow-carded in the 18th minute. Ilkeston drilled the penalty kick into touch and the lineout catch was rumbled on by the forwards before the backs created an overlap for winger Paul Stephenson who cut back inside to cross.
Ilkeston continued to dominate territory with the occasional break out from the hosts, and Andor Benyi slotted the penalty with the last kick of the half, after Rasen skipper Chris Starling transgressed and was sin-binned for 10 minutes, to send the Derbyshire side into the break with a slender 8–0 lead.
As the second half began to unfold Ilkeston still spent long periods in Rasen territory despite now facing the wind. They gained a crucial breakthrough in the 12th minute when flanker Christopher Tipton burst through a ruck with enough pace to breeze past two despairing tacklers for a try.
With the odds against them Rasen suffered a further setback when Dearden went off with a nasty gash to his leg.
Rasen continued to battle manfully with promising runs from winger Simon Cooper and Adam Goodwin who played with distinction after his switch to full-back.
Fly-half Greg Wise created good field position and Ilkeston eventually conceded a penalty. Rasen spurned the kick at goal and opted for a scrum that retained possession, but ultimately came to nought.
Rasen enjoyed a good spell of possession, but were met by determined defence until full-back Tom Pottinger received a yellow card to leave Ilkeston a man short for the final five minutes.
Rasen struck swiftly from the penalty scrum as substitute winger Milo Berger sliced through the Elks defence wide out to give his side hope.
Time was against Rasen and Ilkeston made sure their hosts were kept as far away from the try line as possible.
They did concede one final penalty, and scrum-half Chris Everton gamely took a quick tap and hared upfield. But the distance was too far and Ilkeston shepherded the supporting Cooper into touch to gain a hard-fought victory.
Rasen are undergoing a difficult transition period with fate conspiring against them with two further injuries.
But there should be enough fortitude and character within the squad, coupled with the return of experienced players, to weather the storm and rescue a morale-boosting win.
Rasen: Haig, Alldridge, Southwell, Mills, L. Dearden (Inman), C. Starling, Pryer, Chamberlin, C. Everton, Wise, T. Stephens, P. Everton (Berger), Brown, Cooper, Goodwin.
* On Saturday, Rasen make the difficult trip to Kettering for a 2.15pm kick-off. Travelling supporters are reminded Kettering charge an admission fee.