Hornets 16 - Oldham 23
Ooh, we had to take a very long, deep breath before writng this report. Indeed, If we'd've written it up last night it would just be 400 WORDS IN BANGED-OUT, RANTING CAPITALS WITH A WHOLE LOAD OF PISSED OFF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!
So, with the soothing distance of overnight's hindsight it's fair to say that this result is… er… disappointing.
Not so much the fact that Hornets somehow contrived to toss away a comfortable lead - or that the vacuum that occupies the half-back spots gave ex-Hornet Steve Roper enough time and space to look like Darren bloody Lockyer.
It was just the way in which - post the 20 minute mark - Hornets simply ossified to a standstill, allowing a marginally more imaginative Oldham side to simply steal the game by increments.
But it had begun so very differently. Oldham slammed the kick-off into the main-stand and, from the resulting penalty, Hornets set-up camp in the Oldham 20 metre area: for the next 20 minutes. However, while much huffing and puffing ensued Hornets were unable to find the killer pass to unzip the visiting defence
So one-sided was the opening quarter it took 15 minutes for Oldham to carry the ball over the half-way line. And when they did, Hornets went straight back downfield where a big Danny Yates cut-out pass sent Dale Bloomfield in by the flag. Crooky off the touchline with the extras and Hornets a deserved 6-nil ahead.
In their next possession Oldham coughed the ball first tackle and, with defenders stretched and scrambling, Paul Crook mugged them from acting half for a classic sucker try. An easy two from in front and Hornets a pretty straightforward 12-nil lead.
Then came a big momentum shift. Hornets subbed Tony Suffolk, Woz Thompson and Paul Crook and, while shifting shape to accommodate their replacements, shipped two soft penalties to gift Oldham 80 free metres.
They capitalised immediately, Crowley spinning out of a tackle to score from close range. Palfrey the two. 12-6.
Hornets strove to regain the momentum: Danny Bridge and Dale Bloomfield combining up the left channel to force a drop-out, but a sequence of pushed passes to the right saw the ball go to ground. Then Danny yates sprang a quick attack off a free-play, but the move broke down. From the resulting scrum Oldham were snagged for stealing the ball and Lewis Charnock took the two: 14-6.
With the hooter imminent, Oldham produced the one lucid move of the half - a neat interchange of passes up the right channel to send Palfrey in from 20 metres. A simple conversion and - somehow - Oldham within touching distance, 14-12 at the break.
The second half began in a bit of a frenzy. Dave Hull stole the kick-off ball one-on-one from Roper; his response was a high tackle on Matt Hadden; then Oldham stole the ball two-on-one to concede a penalty, which Hornets ran. Second tackle they dropped the ball. Next attack Dave Hull coughed the ball second tackle - Oldham reciprocating. Then Palfrey launched a huge last-tackle bomb, Gaz Langley spilled his catch, Referee Ansell waved all-on, Oldham didn't hear the call and hoofed the ball out on the full, which constituted a free-play, so Oldham got the feed at the resluting scrum. Still with us? Phew…
After this whirlwind start, the next 15 minutes were a creeping stasis of scrappy play, soft penalties and poor decision-making. As the hour ticked up, Lewis Charnock was yellow-carded for a supposed late hit on kicker Steve Roper; Oldham opted for the two and, with the last quarter to play, it was all locked up at 14-all.
For the next 10 minutes, 12-man Hornets pressed hard, but with little sign of a breakthrough. And when Hornets conceded consecutive penalties for holding down, Oldham took the two to grab the lead at 14-16.
With both sides visibly tiring, the errors and penalties continued to suck the energy out of the game. And, when Oldham transgressed 40m from their posts after 72 minutes, Paul Crook kept his head to slam home a long-distance penalty: 16-all.
But rather than using this as a platform to push for the win, Hornets contrived to effectively hand the game to Oldham. Danny Yates made a spectacular hash of the kick-off: carrying the ball to the touchline where he was bundled out of play 20m from the Hornets line. Oldham didn't piss about. Straight from the scrum, quick hands wide found Crowley barrelling in from close range. Palfrey the two. 16-20 - and only one team looking like winning.
There was an air of inevitability when Roper banged home the 78th minute drop goal to seal the game. Final score 16-23.
It's hard to accept that there are so few positives to take from this. While Hornets thudded manfully up the middle for long tracts of this game, there was little creativity behind the scrum/ruck. Indeed, we look undercooked in terms of leadership and direction.
If I had to desperately fish for a positive out-take it's the fact that, if Oldham are widely tipped for promotion this year, then we're only 7 points away from that and we have a whole season ahead to make that up. There's a long way to go yet - and, as the song says: "it's not how you start, it's how you finish". And we all know Oldham's record on that front...