Thursday, 23 May 2019

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

BARROW: a graveyard, earlier today.
Welcome to the first game of the second half of the season - and we head for Barrow: the graveyard of so many hopes over the years.

If you're seeking any consolation from last Saturday's emotional trauma (and believe us, the pickings are transparently thin), Hornets did manage an exceptional 40 minutes: while - on Sunday - Barrow were roundly pounded by an effective, if unexciting, Sheffield Eagles.

Barrow lost 30-18, but the outcome was given the veneer of a contest by two Barrow tries in the last five minutes, long after the Eagles had clocked-off for the day. Interestingly, The Raiders were ahead 8-6 at the break - Sheffield piling in four tries in the third quarter (three of them in six minutes) to take the game away from Paul Crarey's side. Speaking in the NW Evening Mail Crarey said: “We probably played for 55-60 minutes, but that 20 minute block is letting us down." And he felt that the scoreline wasn't reflective of the effort his side put in: "There was a lot of effort put into today’s game and the scoreline didn’t really reflect that," he said. Wise words, mate.

Looking ahead to this week's encounter Crarey said: “Rochdale showed a big improvement at the Bash and they have improved. I think they put the cue in the rack at half time and, in this division, you can’t afford to do that. We know how important (Sunday's) game is and Matt Calland is a good coach and will have them well prepared.”

Certainly, both ours and Barrow's performances at the Summer Bash leave both sides in search of redemption this week - and both sides will see this as a potential springboard for the back-half of the season.

Indeed, the challenge remains the same - be better than Swinton: a challenge now rendered more difficult than it ever was. The mathematics, though are simple: Hornets now need to gain five more points than Swinton in the 14 games remaining to reel them in. Three more wins than them, effectively. A task complicated by the fact that Swinton host Dewsbury on Sunday - sitting one place and one point above them.

Yes, we know that Widnes sit amidst the back-runners in this pack on 4 points, but with 8 wins already this term, you have to assume that, having already shrugged off their -12-point punishment, they'll creep back up the table as we head for September.

Barrow sit next to bottom on three points - and haven't taken a single point since February. Their only win of the season came in Round 1: a 22-18 win at Batley. Their only other point came in Round 4 with a 20-all home draw with Dewsbury. Their first game of March was a 20-8 defeat - at Spotland. It's been downhill for both clubs since - especially Barrow was they'e gone even longer than us without a win.

Barrow's form has been a bit of a mystery to us, as they have a side containing some redoubtable talent: Lewis Charnock, Tee Ritson, Jarrod Stack, Jamie Dallimore, Deon Cross and Jono Smith. And don't forget Papua New Guinean trio Stargroth Amean, Wartovo Puara Jr and Willie Minoga - all signed from Queensland Cup side SP Hunters. There's something clearly failing to click at Craven Park. Let's hope it continues for another week at least...

Paul Crarey does have Martin Aspinwall and Dan Toal back in his side after lengthy lay-offs - and he has identified areas for improvement: “If we could just control the game for longer periods, instead of pressing the self-destruct button by giving the ball away 30 metres from our line or trying to score with every set, or not playing the ball correctly and giving penalties away. It’s about being patient and getting to the back end of kicks and then getting some repeat sets.”

We read that as an opportunity to pressurise them into making poor decisions. Indeed, it was a high level of defensive pressure that harried Swinton into errors in the first half last weekend - and in tight games you need all the scraps you can feed on.

Beyond the half-time brew at Blackpool, it's all a bit of a lamentable blur - but it underpins the scale of the task in hand for Matt Calland and his coaching team. Certainly losing is a bad habit to break, and Hornets haven't really been in the position of locking down a game this season.

But we travel in hope that the second half of the season will be an improvement on the first. So let's shed that particular skin and go again. See you at Craven Park.

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.