Hornets 24 Workington 37
Stanky had called this a make or break game. But while a heavily depleted Hornets didn't quite make it, a gutsy second half performance showed that their spirit isn't broken quite yet.
But this was a game of contrasting halves. The first was like watching a slow-motion car crash. For 40 minutes Hornets repeatedly gave up soft possession, daft penalties and acres of ground to give ToWn the irresistible momentum to run in four pretty basic tries. The first after ten minutes as Lupton strode through a static defence, Carter after 22 minutes in a carbon-copy walk-in. Then Lupton three minutes later slumping in from acting half, and the ultimate ignominy as serial mercenary Thackray wriggled through a crown of defenders to get the ball down.
A punch-drunk Hornets managed one last swing before the hooter, with Anthony Stewart sucking in defenders before slipping the ball to Barry Clarke for a try by the flag.
Half time came as a mercy. Despite some sustained pressure, Hornets had failed to capitalise, whilst ToWn had cheerfully snaffled the scraps from Hornets' errors.
Stanky said afterwards that, rather than chuck the cups around in the dressing room, he'd asked every player to tell him whether their own first half effort had been good enough. And his incisive, analytical approach came amazingly close to stealing the day, as Hornets came out all guns blazing to blast the visitors with four unanswered tries.
Within a minute, Paul Crook's teasing kick wrong-footed ToWn's defence leaving just enough space for Wayne English to dive athletically and ground the ball; then four minutes later swift hands created space for Dale Bloomfield to score by the flag. Now with the momentum, Hornets forwards began driving the big Cumbrian pack backwards and on 55 minutes, John Cookson crashed in to put Hornets within striking distance at 20-24. The comeback was complete ten minutes later when pressure in the ToWn in-goal caused Carter to cough the ball and Danny Davies was on hand to touch down. Astonishing stuff, but Paul Crook's conversion attempt skimmed a post to deny Hornets the lead - Workington's 'get out of jail free' card.
The shell-shocked Cumbrians sucked in for one last drive downfield, and kept the ball alive for Miller to score on 75 minutes. Bainbridge rubbed it in with a conversion from the touchline. A Bainbridge drop-goal was sufficient to secure the spoils and a late, late Carter try through a knackered defence denied Hornets the bonus point. A cruel denouement.
Having dragged this game back from the brink, Hornets were deserving of some reward, but the first-half deficit (in both score and performance) proved too great a gulf to breach. But whilst this result leaves the possibility of promotion now in serious doubt, it also showed what Hornets are capable of at this level when the cogs engage.
And it also showed the level of performance required for 80 minutes, every week until the end of the season if Hornets are to catch Whitehaven in an increasingly desperate chase for fourth.