Hornets 46 - Thunder 26
The afternoon had an unfamiliar feel. Firstly the line-up. Having scrutinised the video of the previous week's defeat at Doncaster, Stanky dropped Dave Newton, John Cookson and Chris Baines into the U23s - and drafted U23 second rower Andy Unsworth into first team action. An assertive, but brave move.
And the game had an oddly unfamiliar look to it too. This was an awkward, stuttering affair where Hornets really only sparked into life with the hour approaching, and where superior fitness & pace were enough to take the game away from a hardworking Gateshead who used their size advantage to exploit a generous Hornets defence,
Indeed, before Hornets fans had chance to get comfortable, Thunder had shot into a shock 8-nil lead, replicating an overlap on the right in the 5th and 8th minutes for Beasley and Thackeray to score.
After 20 minutes of faffing around, Hornets finally worked the ball to Dale Bloomfield who obliged with a well taken try; followed in quick succsession by first Jonny Leather finishing well, stepping off his left foot to score on 29 minutes, then Paul Crook skating through on 31 minutes to take the score to 18-8 and the regulars exhaling as normal service appeared to be resumed.
But on the last pass of the last play of the last set of the half, Hornets switched off as Gateshead fed another lumbering leviathan forward into a lacklustre defence - this time Payne slumping in to send the teams in at 18-14 at the break.
And the second haf started in much the same vein: Gateshead piggy-backed downfield off a series of daft penalties, for Neilson to plonk himself over the line from close range to edge Thunder ahead at 18-20.
Hornets temporarily roused from their slumber just four minutes later as a rare passage of lucid football saw Gary Middlehurst drag Hornets back in front. But the relief was short-lived as Gateshead's now obvious 'Plan-X' was put into play: this time huge lump Waller ambling through some very ordinary tackles to re-establish the visitors' 2-point lead at 24-26.
This sounded the alarm and Hornets finally engaged the cogs, with three tries in 8 frantic minutes to seize the momentum. A well constructed try from Danny Davies on 54 minutes was followed by a brace from Wayne English on 57 and 62 minutes and Thunder were spent.
Wayne English could've had a deserved hat-trick had his juggling acrobatic effort not been pulled back for a dubious forward pass. Paul Crook sealed his man-of-the-match effort backing up well to score in the 71st minute to deny Gateshead any chance of a bonus point. He ended the afternoon with a 22 point haul, missing only one conversion from eight attempts.
In the end this was a hard-earned, if unspectacular, win. Hugely out sized in the pack, Hornets did enough to stem the slow tide of the rumbling Gateshead forwards and when they worked the ball through hands they had enough pace and technique to out-fox a Thunder side that played a basic, no-frills game off the back of a steadily escalating penalty count.
It'd be churlish to moan, though. It's three points in the bag, no bonus point conceded and, with Oldham going down in a spectacular second-half collapse at Doncaster, it reignites the chase for the top four.
But there's still much to be done ahead of next week's odyssey to Neath, where the 'real' SW Scorpions will pose more of a challenge. Hopefully Newton, Cookson & Baines will return with new vigour from their soujourn in the reserves and Hornets can kick-on, gain confidence and establish a bit of momentum.