Sunday, 1 June 2014

The One That Got Away

Barrow 38 - Hornets 18

Don't be fooled by the scoreline - it doesn't tell anywhere near the whole story of this surreal pantomime of a game.

It became clear at 2.45pm that the ego had landed. The announcement of 42 year-old Bobbie Goulding at half-back for Barrow ensured that - regardless of the score -  there would only be one story to emerge from this game.

As it was, this was one of those irritating games that always seemed within Hornets' reach, but which - almost imperceptibly - ebbed away in a receding tide of dubious referrring decisions and unforced errors.

Indeed, a vociferous Hornets contingent enjoying the Barrow sunshine was 'treated' to possibly the least glowing start. On Barrow's first set, their winger was dragged into touch on the last tackle, the ball bouncing loose in the process. 

But referee Crashley - old-headed for long tracts of this game by Goulding -  gave the home side the feed at the scrum from whence the ball was shipped wide to Wiper who scored by the flag with a minute on the clock. Shaw added the two and Hornets looked behind the metaphorical 8-ball before they'd even started.

In fairness (or, indeed, in Furness) Hornets took the game back to Barrow with a solid, direct set, but a loose ball launched a 70 metre rearguard action with Lewis Galbraith compelled to touch down in goal. This signalled a period of sustained Barrow pressure, but they lacked the guile to capitalise.

On 15 minutes Hornets got the break through they deserved. A huge Chris Baines break through the heart of the Raiders line, a fantastically delicate dink-kick from Josh Jones and Ryan Millard strolled through to score great try. Crooky with the two and Hornets back in the scrap.

But Hornets' desire to play expansive football came back to bite them. A penalty for obstruction as the ball was worked across the line (the first of four 'obstructions' in the game) swept Barrow 60 metres downfield where Grant somehow squeezed through a backpedaling defence to score. Shaw with the two, 12-6.

Almost immediately Barrow were back on the attack - Chris percival going for a 23rd minute interception, knocking the ball on and handing the home-side easy possession. But the Hornets defence stood firm. Having defused the danger, a great 80 metre exit set pressed Barrow back in their own 20m zone, but with ball in hand, Hornets forced a couple of passes and, with Barrow booming the ball deep into Hornets half Lewis Galbraith showed great pace to win the foot-race and touch down to concede a drop-out.

Having policed a laissé faire ruck for 35 minutes, Mr Crashley decided to re-interpret the laws relatng to holding down in the tackle, snagging Hormets for an innocuous effort. The penalty piggy-backed Barrow to within 10 metres of the Hornets line, where they sent in a big lump off a short ball from a yard for a pig-ugly try. Shaw faultless: 18-8.

The half ended as it had begun, with a frankly shite refereeing decision. Swept downfield by yet another obstruction penalty, Barrow's set was going nowhere. Hornets admirably committed bodies to the tackle, but the ball carrier persisted in wrestling his way to an extra few metres. With the tackle seemingly still in progress, Mr Crashley blew for not releasing the ball carrier - despite the fact that he'd quite patently failed to call 'held' - and, with the siren sounding, Shaw took the two to send Hornets a disappointing 20-6 down - with Barrow barely having had to work for a single point.

The second half began in frenetic fashion: Barrow on top buoyed by the goading of the hyperactive tannoy announcer and some Goulding histrionics. But it took close on 20 minutes for any meaningful activity. And it was as disappointing as it was shambolic. With the last tackle of a another Barrow set going nowhere, an aimless kick into an empty in-goal caused undue chaos. The gathering Hornetrs defence cocked it up royally, gifting Campbell a horribly easy try. Shaw with the two and the bonus point heading for the exit at 26-6.

But Hornets hit straight back. A sweeping 80 metre break instigated by Paul Crook and finished in style by Lewis Galbraith. Crook with the two and a chink of hope. It was now Hornets' turn to build pressure and on 72 minutes the Barrow defence cracked as John Cookson crashed in to score off a short ball. Crooky with the two and the Hornets' fans in full voice at 26-18.

But this game had a predictable twist in the tail. On 77 minutes Goulding came back off the bench to put the game to bed: his close range inside drop-off ball slotted Jones in by the posts. Shaw added the two. Hope extinguished as the Bonus Point left the building, 32-18.

In one last desperate throw of the dice, Hornets risked a short kick-off, but Barrow came up with the ball. 30 seconds later Lloyd went steaming under the black dot; Shaw adding the two on the siren and Hornets shellshocked at 38-18.

Hyperactive Tannoy Guy invited the crowd to congratulate "Bobbie Goulding and the Barrow Raiders" -  interesting to see who gets top billing here. And, whilst Goulding proved his usual pain-in-the-arse handful, he was for long-periods reduced to an Alfred-Hitchock-esque cameo role, a familiar face strolling past in the background as the action whirled around him. Indeed, Barrow were more lively, more dynamic with him off the field. But in the end, his niggle-value was sufficient difference.

And we'd say to Hornets fans scratching their heads about how this one got away, don't be fooled by the scoreline. All bar 12 of Barrow's points came directly from the result of a penalty or a Hornets error. Not once in the first half did Barrow carry the ball over the half-way line: the referee's whistle their only means of gaining ground.

At times Hornets looked more like the smooth, slick footballing machine we all want to see, but it's hard to gain any momentum when the game is repeatedly broken up  like this.

Missing Langley, Ratu, Llewellyn, Case, Suffolk, Bowman and Sheridan this still has the feel of a patched-up side. The addition of Stuart Littler should provide some respite - his shift at Craven Park commendably adept, he gave it a proper dig.

On a weekend where all teams except Barrow in the bottom five lost, nothing much changes. So we dust ourselves off and go again next week - hoping, as we do, for a more equitable rub of the green.