Oldham 18 Hornets 28
This was a victory of substance over style, of function over form.
Having fallen foul of the 'curse of Whitebank' less than a month ago, Hornets sought to lay the hoodoo and get the 'proper' season underway with a crucial win.
Taking a practical, no-frills approach built on the foundation of a big pack, it didn't take long for the visitors to assert themselves.
On 7 minutes an intricate interchange of passes between Wayne English, Steve Roper and Dave Hull cut a swathe through Oldham's right centre channel; Hull standing strong in the tackle to drop the ball back to Roper who scampered from 20 metres to score. Crooky coolly slotted the extras to give Hornets a 6-nil lead.
With Hornets reduced to 12 men when 'Angry' Gaz Langley was yellow-carded for apparently holding up a quick restart, Oldham huffed and puffed up the middle to little effect. Hornets, having absorbed their one-dimensional pressure, ground the ball back up the hill where Wayne English scrambled through a tangle of arms and legs to score out wide. Crooky pulled the conversion attempt wide.
With Alex Trumper and Danny Davies targeting Dallimore on defence, Hornets continued to play a solid, direct game: Oldham's only real progress aided by some pretty liberal interpretations of the laws by the referee. But the visitors stuck to the task, rewarded on the half hour when Chris Baines jink-and-go from close range left a flat-footed defence suckered to stretch Hornets' lead to 14-nil. Crooky's laser-guided boot slid the conversion home from the touchline and at 16-nil Oldham looked a busted flush.
Their only real attack of the half came after 35 minutes off the back of a very peculiar refereeing decision. An aimless Oldham bomb was gathered in flight by Wayne English, who found himslef penalised, it seems, for turning his shoulder towards the onrushing tacklers. Oldham's quick tap caught the Hornets defence out of shape and, two sloppy missed tackles later, Langtree slipped through to get Oldham on the board. Dallimore added the two: 16-6.
The hooter signalled the end of a superbly executed first half and Hornets fans stamped chilling feet in anticipation of a repeat down Whitebank's infamous slope.
But the A627M 'El Classico' always has a few twists and turns up its sleeve and Oldham began the second half with a visibly increased intensity.
On 50 minutes a huge break through the Hornets line launched fullback Lepori on a 60 metre footrace to score (16-12) and on the hour Files capitalised on an appalling decision after Dallimore had dropped the ball cold out the back of a tackle. A puzzling penalty had Hornets on the back foot, Files steamed in from close range and - from nowhere - Oldham somehow had an 18-16 lead.
As the ground announcer attempted to whip the home fans into a state of apoplexy, Ian Talbot sent John Cookson and Alex McClurg back into the fray and Hornets got back to first-principles of completion, steady yards and a good kick-chase.
The effect was almost immediate.
Hornets made good ground off the back of Trumper and Baines drives; Wayne English chimed into the line and caused havoc amongst the Oldham defence - pinballing off scrambling defenders, and John Cookson exploded onto a neat short pass to plant the ball by the post. Crook converted: Hornets back in front by 22-18.
Oldham fans headed for the gates. With 15 still to play. Maybe they sensed what was coming.
With Hornets now back in the groove, Oldham struggled to make headway against some determined, hard-hitting defence. Conversely, Hornets continued to drive the home defence backwards both with ball in hand and via a barrage of booming Paul Crook kicks, each augmented by an enthusastic chase.
And it was such a kick in the 71st minute that sealed the game. Crook hoisted the ball skywards toward Agoro who, having been rock-solid all afternoon coughed the ball under pressure for Dave Hull to snaffle it and scoot in by the flag. Just for good measure, the Ginger General Paul Crook smacked the conversion through from the touchline as the Hornets fans sang in an emptying Whitebank. 28-18
Hornets strove manfully to deny Oldham the bonus point: Crooky going closest, held-up over the line, but it wasn't to be.
This was a satisfying, gratifying win. yes, an opening 40 of ruthless precision was followed by a ten minute wobble that gave Oldham a chink of hope. But the strength of character required to regain control, get back to the gameplan and to execute it with ruthless pragmatism was to be admired.
Ultmately, this is how good you need to be week-in week-out to get the hell out of this league. While the finish line is a long way away, this was a great start and fans at the Western-end of the A627M can take great confidence from this result.