Thursday, 20 August 2015

Sunday's Coming: Keighley Cougars

Having been tight, multi-faceted and complex, this week the mathematics of League 1’s playoffs became starkly and brutally simple. Crusaders spectacular implosion at home to Swinton and Keighley’s one-point smash & grab of a game that Barrow never looked like losing boil the season’s relentless calculus down to one simple equation. Win the remaining three games and neither Barrow nor Crusaders can make 5th place.

In terms of finishing positions, though, just two points (at the time of writing) separate 2nd from 5th - but Sunday’s visitors Keighley laid down a huge marker last week when  - despite trailing by nine points with only five minutes remaining - Andy Gabriel’s 79th minute try gave Keighley a wafer-thin one-point victory.

As if that weren’t enough, Barrow’s Brad Marwood missed a penalty with the last kick of the match that would’ve won the game. Coronaries all round!  Paul March, though was nonchalant:  “…it added to the drama … but we’ve got to be sharper at Rochdale next week.”

Forced back into half-back duties, March continues to be the cog that makes the Cougars turn and, last week, weighed in with a typical quick-tap stroll-in try while Barrow were switched off at a penalty.

While Keighley were slugging it out in front of 900 at Cougar Park, Hornets had the opposite experience - at the opposite end of the country. People suggested that the ‘crowd’ of 51 declared by Oxford at Hemel must be close to the record low for a semi-pro RL game anywhere - so we checked and we reckon that the previous lowest was Southend Invicta’s final home game against Huddersfield in 1985, where there were 85 supporters.

Yes, we know that last week both teams were effectively away from home, but Oxford’s only 50 minutes from Hemel compared with the five hour trip from Rochdale, so you might at least expect their ‘hardcore’ to show up. We counted 26 Hornets supporters on the day so, while it’s a dubious honour, we’ll take it that we outnumbered the home supporters. Indeed the Hornets hardcore deserve a special mention for making the noise and - literally - flying the flag(s) for Rochdale in the cold bosom of the South.

Ultimately, not much changes for Hornets this week: we need to win to maintain our challenge for playoff glory - and to deny the chasing pair any opportunity to gain ground. As we said - win three games and it’s all on. Let’s do it.