Sunday, 12 March 2017

Hornets Salvage an Ugly Point

Hornets 26 - Oldham 26

Everybody loves a story with a twist in the tail - but Hornets made hard work of salvaging a draw against an Oldham side that tore up the form-book and came within a whisker of leaving Spotland with both Championship points.

After the euphoria of the Featherstone game, this was a head-splitting, coach-killing comedown: a pig-ugly mess of a game in which Oldham showed sufficient composure to pick-off a relentless litany of Hornets mistakes.

Dumb penalties, wayward passes, sloppy carries and - for the first time this season - flaky defence handed Oldham ample opportunity to steal this game almost by stealth: edging further and further away from a Hornets side disappearing up its self-made fundament of errors.

But even when this Hornets side looked destined to be derailed by a tank-slapping wobble, it somehow found a way to avoid the inevitable: stubbornly refusing to lose in a miracle last five minutes.

Hornets started like a missile: Oldham shipped a penalty with the first tackle of the game; Hornets marched straight upfield, where Lewis Palfrey skipped into space on the last tackle to send Ben Moores in off an inside pass. Palfrey the extras and the Roughyeds shellshocked at 6-nil.

Having taken command, it took a mad 30 seconds to pull Oldham back into the game. Two consecutive 6th minute penalties walked the visitors to the Hornets goal-line where Walne ran a looping arc through the centre channel to score. Leatherbarrow locking it up at 6-all.

Then it all went to shit - Hornets spending most of the next 20 minutes playing without the ball. Whilst Rob Massam and Chris Riley looked strong under the ensuing aerial bombardment, back on the ground things looked pretty grim: Miles Greenwood waiting far too long for a kick into the in-goal to settle, snagged at the expense of a drop-out; Oldham gifted a freakish penalty after a voluntary tackle by their own player; then handed the feed at a scrum after Hewitt dropped the ball cold; great defence wasted as Danny Bridge coughed the ball 2nd tackle. All sorts of horrible.

On the quarter-mark Samir Tahraoui drew a rare penalty. Hornets opted to take the kick: Lewis Palfrey hoisted the effort wide.

On the half hour Josh Crowley produced a shocker of a pass to bring another attack to a premature halt. And when Chris Riley was captured in-goal off an excellent kick-chase, only one side looked like scoring.

But wait…

In the last four minutes of the half, the Hornets cogs engaged - courtesy of two moments of lucidity from Josh Crowley. First he followed up a skittering Lewis Palfrey break to crash in off a flat inside ball; then he produced a huge line break, drawing the full-back to slot on Jack Holmes. The hooter sent Hornets in 14-6 up.

Oldham began the second half with visibly more purpose. And when they produced a smart last tackle blind-side play, Leatherbarrow sent Clay over by the flag. Leatherbarrow made no mistake and at 14-12, we had a game on our hands.

Hornets responded well, but having received a penalty at closae quarters, they over-played it and spilled the ball first tackle. Off the hook, Oldham trekked straight upfield where Egodo dived through a napping defence to touch-down a speculative kick going nowhere. Leatherbarrow banged over the two and - from out of nowhere - Hornets were chasing the game at 14-18.

The next ten minutes were an object lesson in how to hand momentum to the opposition. Danny Bridge’s first-tackle suicide pass handed Oldham soft possession; Jo Taira knocking on on the second tackle; a penalty for Oldham from a Taira high-shot, then Miles Greenwood again skittled in-goal off a hit & hope kick. Relief came as Tyson specacularly knocked-on the drop-out - but Jo Taira capped a shocker by knocking on early in the tackle count.

With the hour approaching, Hornets forced a rare Oldham drop-out - only to over-play again up the blind-side with a passage of play that saw the ball sail into Row D. The next possession ended with a frankly awful forward pass on the first tackle.

The only great surprise was that it took Oldham until the 62nd minute to capitalise on the chaos: direct running from Walne exploited a stretched Hornets defence after a clutch of defenders failed to wrap-up the ball in the tackle. Leatherbarrow on-target: 14-24 and the game rapidly departing.

When Hornets were pulled for ‘ripping’ in the 70th minute, Oldham elected to take the two: Leatherbarrow flawless, Oldham 14-26 to the good. All pretty frustrating.

But all good stories have a twist and this one came in the shape of two tries out of nothing. On 75 minutes Gav Bennion prised his way through defenders to score the try that gave Hornets a chink of hope. Palfrey the two: 20-26 And when Ryan Maneely produced a mercurial run from acting half with two minutes remaining to plant the ball under the black-dot Spotland erupted. Lewis Palfrey hit the two and Hornets were to receive the kick-off with one minute to find an unlikely knock-out punch.

Even then there was time for Hornerts to cough the ball and hand Oldham the feed with 30 seconds to play. But when Oldham conceded a penalty on the hooter, Hornets had one last throw of the dice to come-up with a winning play.

As it was, Lewis Palftey failed to find touch and it took some mad scrambling to pin Oldham back and hold on for the draw. Crazy.

In the end, this was a fracturted, flawed, fragmented Hornets display in which they seemed compelled to produce every error in the book.  And, despite this, a well-drilled Oldham outfit still couldn’t come up with the win that looked like a done-deal after 70 minutes.

Whilst Hornets were sloppy for long periods, the departure of Gaz Middlehurst with injury did signal a drop in Hornets’ defensive intensity - his talismanic work-rate clearly the glue that holds the read-white & blue line together.

But it’d be churlish to complain too much. The A627M El Classico delivered in spades: a no-holds barred local derby in which two committed sides couldn’t be separated. But both coaches will watch this back tomorrow and wonder what the hell happened.