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.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Saturday's Coming: Swinton Lions at the Summer Bash

WELCOME TO BLACKPOOL: Time for Hornets to kick arse beside the seaside. 
(Photograph: Dougie Wallace from 'Stags, Hens and Bunnies: A Blackpool Story')

It's apt that the Summer Bash at Blackpool comes at the mid-point of the season, because this year's game agains fellow cellar dwellers Swinton provides the point around which our season could tip one of two ways.

Win and we could leapfrog Barrow, off the bottom of the competition (assuming the Raiders lose in Blackpool to Sheffield) and within points difference of Swinton, over whom we have a game in hand (admittedly, it is a points difference of 136!).

Lose and Swinton head off into the middle distance on 6 points, leaving Hornets looking for three more wins than the Lions in the back half of the season to overhaul them.

It is - literally - a pivotal game.

If last month's meltdown at Heywood Road was this season's nadir, Saturday at Bloomfield Road provides an opportunity for redemption and renewed optimism.

The remainder of the Championship season has effectively been boiled down to a three-way shoot-out involving Hornets, Swinton and Barrow. The aim? Finish top of this triumvirate of underachievement. A task made even more interesting by the trip to Barrow the week after Blackpool. Indeed, if you needed further proof of the importance of the next two weeks, Swinton's only two wins of this campaign came against Hornets - and at Barrow.

Everyone will know by now that Hornets v Swinton has been bumped back to a 3.30 kick off so that the weekend can open with a game that no-one's really interested in (T'onto v TOXIIIC) and which should guarantee an empty stadium for the cameras.

The new kick-off time means that Hornets' game now clashes with Catalan v Wigan at the Nou Camp in Barcelona. It also means that, in order to accommodate Dragons v The Pies, our game has been moved from Sky's mainstream sports channels, now hidden away behind the red-button. Those of you hoping to record our game will have to set your boxes for the replay at 10pm on Sky Sports Arena. I'm glad they've told us that now - because that would have been a very tricky sell to sponsors six months ago.

Swinton prepare for Saturday's game with a raft of injuries. Forwards Will Hope, Ben Austin and Jamie Acton have been joined by Lewis Hatton who has had surgery on a finger injury and will be out for six weeks. Swinton's depleted pack will feature former Hornets Gavin Bennion and Billy Brickhill. Michael Ratu is unlikely to play.

Hornets come into this game needing a win like oxygen - and the performance against York last weekend shows clear signs of improvement. Indeed, we reckon it's the closest we've got to York for quite a while, given their formidable bogey-team status. The inclusion of the four recent acquisitions looked pretty seamless and the spine of the team looked pretty solid (we like Ben Moores at Loose forward as he poses a running threat).

So we travel in hope, at least. Saturday gives the whole club a chance to regain some equilibrium after a challenging first half of the season. It's certainly a great opportunity for the fans to get together, make some noise and enjoy the event.

If you're still considering your options for Saturday, we urge you to get over to Bloomfield Road - even if it's just for our game. Tickets are still available from the club office - and everyone Hornets sells helps offset the costs incurred in participating in the Summer Bash.

So do yourself and the club a favour: get over to Blackpool and bring your singing voice. 'Kiss-me-quick' hats are optional. See you there.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Hornets Put In A Knight-Shift

Hornets 18 - York 24

There's not doubt that the outcome of this game feels like a corner turned. Ignore the fact that York clung on for a win that served to underline their credentials as an unconvincing third-placed outfit - forced into scrapping and scrambling by a patched-up Hornets side with its cracks grouted by loanees, trialists and players filling-in out of position.

While the high-flying Knights foundered and flailed (held, yet again, to a single second half try), Hornets looked organised, energised and workmanlike.

Hornets started with a bang: two Dan Abram 40/20s in the opening exchanges putting the visitors under early pressure, but it was the Knights who took the lead against the early run of play: working the ball tidily around the middle of a retreating defence for Marsh to score under the black dot, then full-back Bass making the extra man on a looping run from the back of the scrum for 0-10 after 16 minutes. York now with some momentum.

They capitalised on the quarter mark when Whiteley broke up the guts of the Hornets defence to be reeled in by Jack Johnson. But Hornets coughed-up a sloppy penalty on next play and York smuggled the ball wide for the otherwise hapless Mazive to find space by the flag.

Hornets continued to drive forward and were rewarded for their persistence on the half hour mark when a neat dink into the in-goal caught defenders napping, Lewis Sheridan quickest to react and get a hand on the ball. 6-14.

Having clawed their way back into the game, Hornets switched off with seconds of the half remaining: Bass reprising his extra-man role to score a carbon copy try to send the visitors in 6-18 up at the break.

The second half began with a flurry: Hornets applying pressure from a steepling Sheridan bomb, York contributing a knock-on. From the resulting play Joe Ryan was forced dead-in-goal to let York off the hook. Jack Johnson was then held-up in goal, but Hornets cane up with a poor last tackle option.

After 10 minutes of one-way traffic the pressure finally told: Liam Carberry hitting a flat-pass from acting half to crash through defenders and score. Abram the two and Hornets back in the race at 12-18.

Almost immediately, York produced a response: Blagbrough in off a short-pass after Robinson had stepped his way through the middle of the Hornets defence. 12-24: Hornets now in a 20 minute run chase. York's response? Go where they're comfortable - suck the daylight out of the game and turn it into a scrappy mess; happy to concede penalties and knock-ons to dissipate any possible momentum.

But Hornets strove to play what little lucid football remained. As the game drew into its closing phase, Hornets shipped the ball wide to Brandon Wood who showed great strength and determination to bypass Mazive and - somehow - plant the ball in the corner. Dan Abram a quality kick from the touchline and Hornets within range of a point at 18-24.

With 10 minutes remaining Hornets threw the kitchen sink at a York side happy to rope-a-dope their way to the final hooter. Their desire to park the bus almost backfired on 75 minutes when Dan Abram chased his own 50 metre downtown kick into the in-goal where Slater took an age to make his mind up: Abram a finger-tip away from the touch-down. York happy to concede a drop-out and stagger to victory.

Indeed, Hornets were the better side for long tracts of this game: enthusiastic, hard-working - enterprising, even. Certainly they looked organised and committed to the cause, which is a noticeable improvement.

As for York, if this is how good you have to be to be third in this competition, we can go into the second half of the season with at least some optimism. And with Swinton - at Blackpool - just round the corner, we can at least travel in hope.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Sunday's Coming: York City Knights

We have good news and bad news.

The good news is that we have it on excellent authority that the posts are already up for Sunday's visit of York City Knights. So well done to the currently depleted Spotland Ground Staff as it was a bit breezy earlier in the week.

The bad news is that - since the Stadium debacle back in March - the RFL's darlings on this side of the pond have been on a relentless run of form that has taken them to fifth in the table with eight wins from 12 games. What caught our eye is that they've played eight of those 12 games at home - with only two of those being defeats, both to teams above them in the table (Toronto and Sheffield).
York's last three defeats have all come away from home.

Apart from the the tonking of Barrow (56-nil!) and a 22 point winning margin over Halifax, this has all the hallmarks of a team that gets the job done (they have the second smallest positive points difference in the competition). Indeed, in the last month they have bookended a narrow four-point loss in Toulouse with wins over Widnes and Batley, by seven and four points respectively. So staying in the arm-wrestle is absolutely key to competing with James Ford's side.

This was evident last week when York almost came unstuck against Batley, as the Bulldogs ramped up their second-half defensive effort to get within a score of nicking the game. Leading comfortably by 22-10 at half time, York found Batley's high-intensity approach after the break difficult to manage, the visitors restricting the Knights to a single second-half try as they chipped away at the margin, but were beaten by the clock.

Having had a look at the highlights, Batley capitalised on York's flaky right edge, isolating Judah Mazive on three occasions to score.

In the last week, Ford has been quoted in York's local press as asking for 'more support' from his board if his side are to sustain their early season form. He wants investment in his squad and in his side's training 'environment'. But his immediate concern is the injury crisis that has his squad down to the bare bones. He said: "We're going to struggle to field 17 players next week. We picked up another couple of injuries (against Batley)".

Hornets come into the game on the back of an all-too familiar pumping by Featherstone Rovers - which will, no-doubt, have given Matt Calland a few extra things to consider - though we do hear on the grape-vine that local reinforcements are on the way.

More than anything, though, the club needs a confidence-boosting performance - and instilling belief is the biggest coaching challenge of all. See you Sunday.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Plus ça change...

Hornets 10 - Featherstone 56

So, anything happen while we were away? Other than the departure of Carl Forster and the appointment of 'the fans' choice' Matt Calland as his replacement?

Chucked in at the deep-end with the game against his former club Featherstone looming, Calland only had a couple of sessions with the squad before getting a fairly abrupt assessment of the scale of the task in hand.

In a championship that's becoming increasingly stretched between full-time and part-time, haves and have-nots, Fev have had - by their standards - a pretty ordinary season thus far. They arrived at Spotland sitting in 7th with a six-and-six record, but boarded the bus home having demonstrated the clear existence of two parallel championships within the one competition: Hornets reduced to chasing shadows at times as the visitors rammed home ten-tries in a one-sided contest.

Those anticipating some sort of messianic miracle were instantly disappointed: Hornets started the game with a knock-on and 45 seconds later Rovers rake King slumped in from acting half. Chisholm added the extras and Fev were up and running.

With the lion's share of the early possession, Featherstone added to their early score with a quick-fire double whammy: Harrison hitting a short-ball to score under the black-dot on 10 minutes, followed by Chisholm in the same spot after a prestidigitatious exchange of passes up the guts of a sloppy defence. Chisholm converting both and Hornets 18-nil down with 12 minutes gone.

Hornets rallied briefly around the quarter-mark when a rare attack saw the ball shifted wide for Shaun Ainscough to score by the flag for 4-18

There was brief respite as the game became scrappy, which suited Hornets. But when Featherstone found themselves with space to work off a 25th minute penalty, quick-hands worked the ball to Carey who scored out wide.

Hornets ended the half with their best spell of pressure, forcing a drop-out, but getting snagged in possession on the last tackle - a feat they repeated just four minutes later.

The sides retired to the sheds at a modest 4-22.

Hornets started the second-half brightly: Luis Johnson held-up in-goal. But the pressure was short-lived as Featherstone again produced a three-minute two-punch combination that sucked the air out of the contest: Hardcastle with a walk-in through a flat-footed defence, Cooper under the sticks after another huge break up the heart of the Hornets defence. Chisholm on-target and, at 4-34 with half an hour remaining, it became a question of 'how many'?

Featherstone added another double either side of the hour: Carey in the corner after a sweeping move that had Hornets clutching air, then Cooper straight through the middle from 25 metres. Too easy: 4-44.

With 10 minutes remaining Hornets centre Ben Morris stole the ball from a bemused Davis to score (Abram the two) - but Featherstone produced yet another rapid brace: Makatoa in off a short-ball, Golding from close range gliding through a defence gone AWOL. Chisholm on target to give Featherstone a rudimentary 10-56 win.

From a Hornets supporters point of view, this was the difficult first step on a journey of rehabilitation as the new coaching team seeks to reignite what looks increasingly like a side with a confidence crisis.

In the media surrounding Calland's appointment he said that coaching Hornets is 'the job he always wanted'. And supporters now have the coach they always believed could improve Hornets' fortunes.  The test for both starts here.