Sunday, 29 June 2014

There's No Good Way to Say This...

Keighley 48 - Hornets 6

The second half in this game marked a season-defining turning point: the painful realisation that the 2014 miracle isn't coming. A slow-motion, forty-minute car-crash in which Hornets' allowed Keighley's scrum-half Paul Handforth as much time and space as he needed to hand them a masterclass in leadership and distribution.

But, as so often this season, it started so very differently. A Hornets side shuffled to accommodate Saints' five-eighth Gary Wheeler (removed at half-time, never to return) looked sharp on both attack and defence in the early exchanges.

The first half was a tale of missed chances: Lewis Sheridan's 80 metre intercept struck-off for a holding back penalty that no-one in the ground saw; sustained pressure, but no final killer pass; a knock-on over the line.

Indeed, it took a Hornets implosion on 20 minutes to break the deadlock. Wayne English's pass from a 20 metre restart was deemed forward, gifting the Cougars the perfect field position for Handforth to score a last-tackle sucker try. He added the extras for 6-nil.

Hornets kept coming, but a hard-earned repeat set deep in Keighley territory was criminally squandered when no-one went in at acting half for a quick Dave Llewellyn play-the-ball, gifting possession to the home side.

Then two consecutive attacks broke down: firstly Ryan Millard's long cut-out pass to Ryan Sheridan was wildly high, then Hornets were snagged for obstruction. Frustrating.

Conversely, Keighley chugged off up the other end and - just as their set looked to have run out of steam - a last tackle kick going nowhere was allowed to bobble in the in-goal for Haley to touch down. Awful, really, after a half of concerted hard work. Half-time 10-nil - and nothing between the sides.

The pattern for the second-half was set almost immediately: Lewis Sheridan royally cocking up a benign Handforth bomb, Lawton strolling in for a simple try off the loose ball. Handforth now with his eye in. 16-nil

Hornets strove to get back in the game; quick hands to the left, but Sheridan fumbled the final flick-pass with the line begging. Off the hook, Keighley swept straight back downfield where Handforth picked an inch-perfect pass for Lynam to hit at pace and score untouched. Handforth the two: 22-0.

It was that man again four minutes later: a cute show & go created a huge hole and exposed Wayne English to a two-on-one he was never likely to win. Craven the scorer. Handforth the two and the game dead at 28-nil with 25 minutes still to play.

Hornets response was to hoof the kick-off out on the full. Just awful.

Hornets finally gave their supporters someting to cheer on 56 minutes when a great break from Stuart Littler slotted Ryan Millard in for a try that hinted that underneath this carapace of lack-lustre dreck there was still a decent footballing side struggling to get out.

Sadly, it was too little to be of consequence and Hornets spent the last 20 minutes standing off Handforth who went through his repertoire like a matador extravagantly building up to the coup de grace.

First: a huge cut-out pass to send White in by the flag. Next: a tricksy interchange of ticka-tacka passing that slipped Craven in off a short-ball. And then: a perfectly weighted dink-kick for Haley to touch-down.

Finally, Handforth capped his one-man-show performance with a jinking solo-try through a retreating defence. He banged over the two for good measure. 48-6 - and every point of it as bad as it sounds.

Whilst the Hornets fans strove to applaud their team, there was a discernible sense of shell-shock. Yes, we've always known that staying up was a big ask in this of all seasons, but at least we hoped we'd go down fighting. Not like this…