Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Blue Monday

Swinton 23 - Hornets 22

There was to be no miraculous resurrection for Hornets on this horrible Easter Monday. Sucked into a shit-fight by a Swinton side desperate for only its second win of the season, Hornets' discipline crumbled to leave 12 men clinging to the wreckage of a draw as late as the 73rd minute.

Having ticked their way through the ‘I-Spy Book of Dumb Penalties’; having had Jordan Hand sin-binned after being targetted all afternoon; having had Jo Taira shown a red card after the use of an elbow long after the tackle was complete; having endured all of that, somehow Hornets had clawed their way back to the brink of a scruffy, scrapping game that would have tested the patience of the most ardent Rugby League saint.

Hornets started in unconvincing fashion: Miles Greenwood dropping a kick at the end of Swinton’s very first set to give Butt a walk-in try. Atkin the extras: Swinton 6-nil up before many had left the bar.

Hornets then succeeded in conceding a penalty from the kick-off possession, Swinton knocking on to let Hornets off the hook. But things got worse. Jordan Case bundled into touch was unfortunate, followed by a sloppy high-shot from Jordan Hand kept Swinton camped in the Hornets half. On 8 minutes, the intervention of a touch-judge saw a supposed lifting offence put on report: Atkin took the two for 8-nil.

Hornets’ poor start continued when Greenwood carried an aimless kick into touch, then Rob Massam uncharacteristically dropped a bomb under pressure: thankfully deemed tackled in-flight, the referee ruled no try.

Hornets did stutter into life briefly: but a poor pass from Lewis Palfrey went to ground with the Swinton defence in retreat. The error was compounded less than a minute later when Lewis Galbraith was pinged for holding down. Atkin took the 2: 10-nil.

Swinton dropped the kick-off: Hornets capitalised. A neat double-pump pass from Danny Yates sent Lewis Galbraith through tacklers to score. Lewis Palfrey on target and Hornets back in the contest at 10-6. Hornets closed the gap to 10-8 when Palfrey took the two after a high shot on Gary Middlehurst.

The remainder of the half became locked in a stasis of penalties and niggle: Hornets with the only clear chance when Rob Massam had a try struck off for a forward pass. On the hooter Hornets were gifted a penalty 30m from the posts. Lewis Palfrey hooking his kick-wide to send Hornets in 10-8 down at the break.

Hornets began the second-half brightly: Matty Hadden carrying deep into Swinton territory, a great break from Lewis Galbraith releasing Rob Massam, Yatesey’s pass put down by Lewis Palfrey. Hornets continued to press, but Lee Mitchell unable to reel in the ball in traffic.

On 48 minutes, Swinton’s Murphy went down horribly in a tackle and the game was delayed for 10 minutes while he received careful attention.

On resumption, Hornets recovered swiftest: Lewis Galbraith finding a miracle offload in the in-goal for Rob Massam to touch-down. Hornets in front 10-12.

Hornets went straight back on the attack, but whern Jordan Hand carried the ball into a tackle, the Swinton tackler hit the deck awkwardly (couldn’t see who it was from our vantage point). After another lengthy break for treatment, Hand was shown a yellow card. Swinton’s response was instant, shipping the ball left for Dwyer to score out wide. Atkins the extras and Hornets 16-12 and one man down.

Now with the momentum, Swinton went forward with purpose and when Bracek strolled onto a pass from 5 metres, he sauntered past some very ordinary goal-line defence to stretch the Lions’ lead. Atkin made no mistake, Swinton looking comfortable at 22-12.

Direct from the kick-off, Hornets’ job got even harder: Jo Taira dropping into a tackle with an elbow, the referee going to the back pocket, Hornets down to 11 men.

On 68 minutes Hornets finally opted to play some football, ball shipped wide for Rob Massam to score by the flag. Palfrey wide with the kick 22-16. Four minutes later we had a game on our hands when Samir Tahraoui was first to react to a loose ball in the Swinton in-goal. 22-20. Palfrey wide with the kick, but given a chance to redeem himself with a penalty after the conversion following a foul on Samir after grounding the ball. Palfrey on target from in front and - with 10 minutes remaining, 12-man Hornets had the game locked-up at 22-all.

But when Jordan Hand digged a Swinton player in the tackle, Alan Kilshaw removed him from the game before the referee did. From the resulting penalty Swinton were piggy-backed into drop-goal range where Atkin obliged to give Swinton the win.

To the neutral, this was a fiery, feisty local derby taken to the wire by two committed teams, but to those with an emotional investment it was a coach-killing tsunami of niggle, penalties and poor discipline.

Indeed, the week-off can’t come soon enough for Hornets. There’s a clear need to go back to the drawing board and rethink some key areas. Post match Alan Kilshaw said that there are some serious questions to be asked of both players and coaching staff. And, yes - just like Easter itself -  this is a real test of everyone’s faith and fortitude.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hornets struggle with Eagles life in the slow-lane

Hornets 18 - Sheffield 42

Even the the most ardent purist would have struggled to appreciate this dog-ugly turd of a game.

Sheffield wore Hornets down in super slow-motion, playing barely any discernible football in a pseudo-vacuum where time itself ground to a near-halt. It was, by some distance, the worst way to lose - a perfromance bereft of aesthetics, an exercise in ugly stasis. A Derren-Brown-like hypnosis where reality became blurred and, when you woke up disoriented, you just happened to find Hornets stood under their own crossbar anticipating a conversion.

Hornets started brightly: a try from their first attack after just three minutes as Josh Crowley pounced on a Danny Yates grubber. Lewis Palfrey added the two and Hornets had peaked before some people had even taken their seats.

Three minutes later Hornets invited Sheffield back into the game. Having pressed hard with a repeat set and a penalty, Matty Blythe knocked on on the first tackle and 40 seconds later Lo strolled through some very ordinary left channel defence to score. Brown levelled it at 6-all and the game headed downhill - very very slowly.

Sheffield went back to Hornets dodgy left channel after 10 minutes as Lo fed Mincella in for 6-10. Brown good with the boot to double the Eagles’ lead. And when the visitors broke 60 metres up the guts of the Hornets defence two minutes later it required desperate measures to prevent further damage. Having scrambled, Hornets’ stand-in full-back Jack Johnson was brave under a bomb, Sheffield penalised for contact in the air.

For the next 20 minutes Hornets strove to contain a Sheffield side that threatened much, but constantly ran out of ideas. Indeed, they even found a couple of chances themselves: Rob Massam unable to reel in a speculator by the flag, Gary Middlehurst held up in goal - but Lewis Palfrey was snagged for obstruction as he delayed his pass a moment too long from the resulting possession.

And Palfrey was involved again two minutes later, halting a Sheffield attack with a timely interception. Hornets were then awarded a penalty for ripping - but Palfrey failed to find touch from 15 metres. Awful. Thankfully good defence forced Spedding into touch as Sheffield again probed up the left.

Having seemingly ridden out the worst of the torpid storm, Hornets switched off on the half hour mark - Burns strolling through a napping defence from Acting half, Brown the extras for 6-18.

Hornets responded well sending Samir Tahraoui crashing in off a short ball to score with his second touch, but - having reduced the arrears - Hornets were on the back-foot immediately as Matty Blythe carried the kick-off into touch.

Sheffield ended the half landing a shocking double whammy: Yere smuggling the ball out of the last tackle for Lo to appear in the in-goal, followed on the hooter by a huge break by Lo deep in his own half, Spedding released up the touchline to score from 50 metres. Half-time score 12-30. All kinds of awful…

The second half began as the first half ended. A 90 metre break from Millar only halted by a huge defensive effort from Rob Massam. But when Matty Blythe knocked on under no pressure it handed the momentum back to the visitors.

As it was, the Eagles forced their first repeat set after 48 minutes and Straughier was first to react to a frankly awful lost tackle kick for 12-34.

Hornets showed some brief resistance: pushing Sheffield off a scrum to gain possession against the head; Lewis Galbraith hitting a short ball at pace to skip through a flat-footed defence to briefly rouse Hornets fans from their slumbers. Palfrey the extras 18-34.

Sheffield underlined their credentials as the league’s dullest dullards, taking a penalty on the hour mark to stretch their lead, from which point the game shuddered towards its end at a glacial pace, with barely a discernible pulse.

Right at the death, Lo stepped out of some awful tackling to score in the corner, Brown added the two and the Hornets fans sleepwalked towards the exits to the sound of distant cheering. Final score, a horrible 18-42.

There’s no doubt that this was by some distance the worst performance of the season on pretty much every count. Hornets looked flat and low on enthusiasm, their DR left edge of Blythe (poor) and Prell (anonymous) looking for all the world like two blokes who’d won a place on the team photo in a raffle.

What’s most galling though is that Sheffield were bereft of any creativity whatsoever. Set up as a ruthlessly pragmatic, attritional unit, they’re awful to watch, but very effective - and thereby hangs a deeply unattractive lesson in how to survive in this division.

At this point we’d usually ask people to forget this abberration and move swiftly on - but as there’s so little to actually remember about this one, let’s take it as read and hope for a better response at Swinton