Monday, 3 September 2018

Three-Minute Warning

Swinton 23 - Hornets 18

Pre-match, Alan Kilshaw said that the Damoclean nature of Sunday’s game hadn’t been discussed amongst the squad. Off the field, supporter sphincters had been squeaking all week and the nerves of both sets of fans were jangling ahead of kick off.

Billed as a potential Championship ’Survival Showdown’, this was - for the main part -  a gritty, bittty, bar-room scrap of a game in which Swinton delivered a masterclass in momentum-sapping niggle.

In the end, though, the potential futures of both clubs might well have been decided in one three-minute period whern Swinton scored three long-range tries to leave Hornets chasing the game.

Having started by knocking-on in the first set, Hornets produced an early attack: Rob Massam caught in the corner after a solid approach set. But then: disaster.

Swinton with their own sweeping attack, Woods dinking a kick behind a stretched Hornets defence where Brown gathered without a defender within 10 metres. Having fielded the kick-off, Swinton went straight back to the same spot, Brown breakling from 80 metres to score. In a sickemning case of deja-deja-vu, Swinton again targeted Hornets ragged right edge. This time Brown turned provider, another long-ranger break, Tyson in support to score. Hornerts reeling at 18-nil after just 15 minutes. Just Horrible.

Slowly, a shellshocked Hornets clawed their way back into the contest. On 20 minutes Tyler Whittaker and Deon Cross kept the ball alive, Morgan Smith arriving at pace onto a flat ball to give the visiting fans a sliver of hope. Tyler Whittaker the extras: 18-6.

The back-end of the half became a bit of a scrambling mess - interrupted by a sequence of ‘mystery penalties’ from referee Mr Smith. But Hornets strove to play what little football was on offer: a Richard Lepori break into open field, his kick ahead evading the chasing Danny Yates; a kick to the corner slipping from Rob Massam’s grasp.

With the game heading for half time, Woods took a drop-goal to give the home side a 19-6 lead.

Hornets began the second half with a bang: keeping the ball alive for Luke Adamson to send Jack Fox in out wide. Tyler Whittaker good with the boot and, suddenly - at 19-12 - we had a contest on our hands.

With Hornets making good metres up the guts, Swinton went back to their ‘comfort zone’ of slowing the game down to walking pace (mostly, it seemed, to allow their blowing pack to walk back into position). Against the grain, the Lions produced a rare moment of lucidity, Tyson reacting first to a last tackle kick, smuggling the ball to Brown for his hat-trick try. 23-12, two scores to win it, 20 to play.

Hornets’ response was immediate. First Deon Cross fidning a last-ditch kick behind the defence, where Hansen made a meal of it. Then the ball worked through the hands for Richard Lepori plunged in by the flag. Tyler Whittaker a stunning kick from the touchline and Hornets within reach at 23-18.

As Hornets strove to find the knock-out punch, Swinton ran through their repertoire: throwing the ball away, feigning injury, breaking-up what little momentum remained.

At the death, Hornets went one last time to the Swinton goal-line, but the urge to find something - anything - saw the ball, and any chance of salvation, slip from their fingers.

So now, all we can do is wait. if the restructure deems that this game determines our fate, so be it.
On the day, Hornets played the majority of  the football, but Swinton found the three minutes that mattered.

A season defined in 180 seconds. The potential ramifications, however, promise to resonate for significantly longer.