Sunday, 28 June 2015

Hornets Sleepwalk to Victory in Slo-Mo Show

Hornets 32 - Hemel 14

There’s a scene in The Matrix where the action flicks into extreme slow-motion and we see Keanu Reeves dodge a bullet. This game was much the same - it started slowly and - as Hemel sucked every last drop of momentum out of the game - decelerated to the point where time itself seemed to stand still.

It was obvious early on that this was going to be a bit of a low-intensity contest as both sides tested the theory of stasis - engaged in a shadow-boxed opening quarter that reminded you of the ghost of a memory of a game you’ve half forgotten.

In the 14th minute, the inertia was temporarily broken as Danny Bridge spun out of a tackle to score from close range. Danny Yates unsuccessful with the extras: 4-nil. Then pretty much nothing to report until the 26th minute, when the return of John Cookson gained warm appreciative applause from the crowd. His introduction gave Hornets the go-forward they needed. Indeed, when Hemel’s Lloyd-Jones was sin-binned for attacking Cooky’s standing leg on 28 minutes, Hornets pressed hard: Jordan Case’s perfectly good try struck off for an unseen forward pass. No matter.

One minute later Danny Yates embarked on a mazy run, bamboozling static defenders to score. Yatesey wide with the conversion: 8-nil.

From the kick-off possession Hornets engineered a decent approach set: Ryan Smith’s teasing kick-through seeing Hornets regain possession as the gathering winger was shunted out of play.

Less than a minute later John Cookson arrived with real intent onto a short ball - punching in to score from close range to the biggest cheer of the afternoon. Yatesey with the two for 14-nil. Cookson a clear catalyst for a more determined, direct approach.

On 38 minutes, Hornets again pressed hard off the back of a solid approach set: Danny Yates again, showing and going all the way to the goal line for another well taken solo try. An easy two for 20-nil and Hornets looking to have shaken off the torpor.

But with the timekeeper clearing the hooter’s throat, Hemel’s most rotund lump Mbaraga was allowed to trundle through a huge hole to score a soft try. The sound of one hand clapping as the teams departed at the break at 20-4.

Hornets tried manfully to start the second half with more pace and purpose, but were gradually sucked into Hemel’s black-hole of anti-football. An early Danny Yates kick forced a drop-out; Hemel glacially slow to recommence play, then a frankly shocking pass from poor Ryan Smith let the Stags off the hook. Off the back of a mess of Hemel penalties, Hornets got Alex McClurg was ‘held-up’ over the line at the end of a headlessy aimless set. Then Warren Thompson adjudged similarly, despite being face-down on top of the ball in the in-goal. On 54 minutes Jordan Case finally got the ball down to Referee Mr Ansell’s satisfaction off a flat ball. Yatesey the two; 26-4.

Just past the hour mark - with the last dregs of energy draining from the game - Hornets were distracted enough for Brown to collect the ball wide on the right to score. 26-8. The home fans exhaled and gazed longingly at their watches.

With all motion now at a virtual standstill, the game became scrappy: two sides clearly out of ideas. The closest thing to action being Hemel’s Coleman taking a dive after a kick-through to con a penalty out of Mr Ansell. To add insult to apathy, that man Mbaraga came barelling through a retreating defence like a bin wagon negotiating a tricky corner to score a shocking slow-motion try. Young converted. Somehow it was 26-14.

Hornets did suck in for a big finish. The reintroduction of John Cookson for the last ten minutes again put Hemel on the back-foot. and, when Danny Bridge hit a flat ball at pace on 77 minutes to score (Yatesey with the extras), the result was given a thin veneer of respectability at 32-14.

We wrote in our preview of the sense in dragging part-time players the length of the country to act as cannon-fodder for the established teams. In credit to Hemel, they did a decent job on sucking the life out of every minute of this game - but it was one that they never really looked like winning. As for Hornets, it was a stodgy, disjoined performance in which Danny Yates, Wayne English and the returning John Cookson provided hints of what this side is really capable of.

Indeed, much as Hemel never looked like winning, Hornets were never in real danger of losing this one - and, once that jeopardy is removed it’s hard for either party to assume otherwise. And that, we think, was part of the issue - two teams required to play out pre-ordained roles. In our search for positives, it was a winning return to a lush Spotland after our annual hiatus - and a try-scoring return for John Cookson, which was good to see.

But, ultimately, you have to think of it like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. It may have been in slow-motion, but at least we dodged the bullet.