Sunday, 19 May 2019

All Aboard The Emotional Rollercoaster

Hornets 30 - Swinton 40

This was a dizzying, disorientating defeat that left Hornets' sizeable and noisy support reeling in the aftermath. Having crackled with invention and ideas before the break, Hornets spent the second 40 minutes running through treacle - whereas Swinton found their feet, gained momentum and sped away, leaving Hornets fans with a collective 1,000 yard stare; brains whirring in disbelief.

Swinton started the brighter, ahead after just five minutes when they lofted a kick up Hornets right edge for Butt to out-jump Shaun Ainscough; Smith converting. Hornets' response was swift: Luis Johnson taking the ball to the Lions' line, Scott Moore producing a pinpoint pass to Brandon Wood who crashed in to score. Dan Abram the first of a perfect afternoon with the boot.

Hornets went straight back on the attack, fuelling their progress by feeding off Swinton's escalating error-count. Indeed, they looked certain to extend their lead when Shan Ainscough broke up the right with support in his wake. Ainscough opted for the inside pass to James Worthington, but  - somehow - the centre fumbled the ball with the fans already on their feet.

Two minutes later, Hornets attacked the same spot, this time Dan Abram stepped off his right to leave defenders clutching at air, slipping Dec Kay in by the posts. Abram the two, and Hornets looking good value for the 12-6 lead.

But Hornets were hit by an almost immediate sucker punch: some frankly awful defending up the right channel ushering Halton almost 40 metres to score: 12-10

On the half hour, Shain Ainscough reciprocated - exposing Swinton's defensive frailties up the same edge to dive in for the 100th try of his career. Dan Abram the two off the whitewash and Hornets' supporters in fine voice.

With the game approaching half-time, Harvey Livett capitalised on a Swinton error to kick the ball into the in-goal and win the foot-race to touch down. Abram the extras: Hornets comfortably in-charge at 24-10.

The talk in the stands was that Hornets had to score first after the break to quell any threat of a Swinton comeback. As it was, Swinton scored within a minute of the restart (Ashton up Hornets' left channel).

Hornets looked to have steadied the ship four minutes later when Shaun Aisncough grabbed his second to extend Hornets lead to 30-14. But 36 hours later, we're still processing what happened next...

Swinton found an extra gear - and Hornets, simply, couldn't go with them. Just ahead of the hour, Swinton produced a double-punch combination: back-to-back tries from Lloyd and Hansen - the latter after the defence failed to snuff-out a kick going nowhere. Hornets clung to the ropes for 13 minutes.

Then again two tries in two minutes. This time Fairclough and Paisley crossing through a flat-footed defence - the latter this time a walk-in off a Dec Kay Fumble. With 14 minutes remaining, Swinton held a Lazarus-like lead at 30-34.

Hornets hauled themselves off the canvas to go in search of redemption, but Swinton were resolute. As time ticked down, all it needed was was one chance. One chance...

It came in the 75th minute when Hornets were awarded a penalty within striking distance of the Lions' line. Like a punch-drunk boxer running on muscle-memory Hornets probed for an opening, but that one last swing proved fateful. With Swinton short on numbers up the right, Harvey Livett launched a huge cut-out pass towards Brandon Wood - only for Ashton to snatch the ball from the air and run 90 metres to administer the coup-de grace. Smith finally found his kicking boots to seal the deal at 30-40.

Whilst the post-mortem on this one will be disturbing and complex, it requires the answer to a single question: how can a team that played with so much vigour and dynamism before the break fall apart so badly?

36 hours on, we still don't have a clue.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Saturday's Coming: Swinton Lions at the Summer Bash

WELCOME TO BLACKPOOL: Time for Hornets to kick arse beside the seaside. 
(Photograph: Dougie Wallace from 'Stags, Hens and Bunnies: A Blackpool Story')

It's apt that the Summer Bash at Blackpool comes at the mid-point of the season, because this year's game agains fellow cellar dwellers Swinton provides the point around which our season could tip one of two ways.

Win and we could leapfrog Barrow, off the bottom of the competition (assuming the Raiders lose in Blackpool to Sheffield) and within points difference of Swinton, over whom we have a game in hand (admittedly, it is a points difference of 136!).

Lose and Swinton head off into the middle distance on 6 points, leaving Hornets looking for three more wins than the Lions in the back half of the season to overhaul them.

It is - literally - a pivotal game.

If last month's meltdown at Heywood Road was this season's nadir, Saturday at Bloomfield Road provides an opportunity for redemption and renewed optimism.

The remainder of the Championship season has effectively been boiled down to a three-way shoot-out involving Hornets, Swinton and Barrow. The aim? Finish top of this triumvirate of underachievement. A task made even more interesting by the trip to Barrow the week after Blackpool. Indeed, if you needed further proof of the importance of the next two weeks, Swinton's only two wins of this campaign came against Hornets - and at Barrow.

Everyone will know by now that Hornets v Swinton has been bumped back to a 3.30 kick off so that the weekend can open with a game that no-one's really interested in (T'onto v TOXIIIC) and which should guarantee an empty stadium for the cameras.

The new kick-off time means that Hornets' game now clashes with Catalan v Wigan at the Nou Camp in Barcelona. It also means that, in order to accommodate Dragons v The Pies, our game has been moved from Sky's mainstream sports channels, now hidden away behind the red-button. Those of you hoping to record our game will have to set your boxes for the replay at 10pm on Sky Sports Arena. I'm glad they've told us that now - because that would have been a very tricky sell to sponsors six months ago.

Swinton prepare for Saturday's game with a raft of injuries. Forwards Will Hope, Ben Austin and Jamie Acton have been joined by Lewis Hatton who has had surgery on a finger injury and will be out for six weeks. Swinton's depleted pack will feature former Hornets Gavin Bennion and Billy Brickhill. Michael Ratu is unlikely to play.

Hornets come into this game needing a win like oxygen - and the performance against York last weekend shows clear signs of improvement. Indeed, we reckon it's the closest we've got to York for quite a while, given their formidable bogey-team status. The inclusion of the four recent acquisitions looked pretty seamless and the spine of the team looked pretty solid (we like Ben Moores at Loose forward as he poses a running threat).

So we travel in hope, at least. Saturday gives the whole club a chance to regain some equilibrium after a challenging first half of the season. It's certainly a great opportunity for the fans to get together, make some noise and enjoy the event.

If you're still considering your options for Saturday, we urge you to get over to Bloomfield Road - even if it's just for our game. Tickets are still available from the club office - and everyone Hornets sells helps offset the costs incurred in participating in the Summer Bash.

So do yourself and the club a favour: get over to Blackpool and bring your singing voice. 'Kiss-me-quick' hats are optional. See you there.