Sunday, 3 September 2017

Big-Hearted Hornets Pass the Stress Test

Hornets 16 - Swinton 8

In this most must-win of must-win games, Hornets produced a performance of composure, control and completion to squeeze Swinton out of a game so tight at times, you could hear it squeak.

Indeed this was a tense affair - the nerves palpable around the ground as both sides engaged in a first half resembling a game of chess: move for counter-move.

The game began ignominiously - Lewis Galbraith caught in possession on the last tackle, the victim of a clear and dangerous cannonball tackle by Bracek. Pulled late by the touch-judge, the incident was put on report by Mr. Smith. A weak cop-out.

Next set, though, Mr Smith eager to snag Hornets for a high shot.

Swinton elected to go aerial at the first opportunity, but Chris Riley was rock solid under the bomb - grabbing a penalty for contact in the air for good measure. Hornets reciprocated in the next set - the outcome identical. Swinton’s response was to cough the ball almost immediately. Hornets’ possession - the outcome identical. Nerves on show.

On 11 minutes Swinton were handed a penalty for a late shot and Hankinson made no mistake from the tee. Five minutes later Hornets rewarded similarly after Danny Yates was flattened after a kick. Yates off the floor to even the scores at 2-all.

Having begun under tension, the game was then deprived of all remaining slack, as both teams worked hard to gain advantage.

On 25 minutes Swinton came up with the error, but Dec Kay’s kick and chase into the in-goal was defused with little trouble. Then a pause in proceedings as Swinton full-back Butt was put on report for off the ball contact with Ant Walker, who was lying injured at the time.

Hornets continued to play what little lucid football was on offer, but when Matty Hadden rose to play the ball with defenders crawling all over him, Mr Smith gave Swinton the penalty. Puzzling.

Hornets responded with some gritty defence: Gav Bennion the man on the spot to snuff out a last tackle kick and bring the ball away.

The game edged towards half-time with two rare chances. First Hornets sweeping the ball wide to Kev Penny who was bundled into touch as he stretched his arm around the corner post; then a Swinton kick to the corner, Bergal adjudged offside.

The game ended with a double concern for Hornets: Jake Eccleston injured chasing down a teasing kick, Ant Walker led staggering from the field with concussion. Eccleston patched up to continue, Walker’s afternoon over. Half-time 2-all.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably more purpose: eager, direct. A huge Josh Crowley break up the guts of the Lions defence culminating in a penalty for holding down. Yatesey no mistake, Hornets edging ahead 4-2.

Then a moment that shifted the momentum. Lewis Foster’s steelpling bomb towards Butt, Lewis Galbraith in hot pursuit - pulling the trigger on a shuddering tackle on the hapless Swinton fullback that brought the crowd to its feet. The next set Swinton knocked on first tackle - the home fans could sense the pressure taking effect.

On 48 minutes, the dam cracked: Dec Kay embarking on a big looping run across the face of the Swinton defence, stepping inside defenders to plant the ball down. Danny Yates off the whitewash for 10-2. Daylight…

Swinton then had a slice of luck. Having blatantly knocked down a Hornets pass, the visitors were given the feed at the scrum, followed by a niggly penalty. Camped on the Hornets 10m line, the Lions forced a drop-out, then were handed a repeat set AND another penalty. Hornets under the cosh. Swinton capitalised, shifting the ball to Bergal who stole in at the corner to score. Hankinson on target: 10-8. The tension cranked up to eleven - coronaries all-round…

Hornets response was direct: a huge bust by Jordan Case had Swinton back-pedaling, but a hurried kick option let them off the hook. No matter; two minutes later Hornets again drove close to the Swinton line, where the impressive Ryan Maneely produced a pass you could get an Arts Council grant for - hitting an unstoppable Foster at pace to stretch Hornets’ lead. Yatesey 100% with the boot and Hornets ahead 16-8.

It looked like a done deal after 70 minutes when a Hornets kick into the in-goal led to chaos and Chris Riley touched down - but Mr Smith and the touchie were the only two people in the ground to spot a knock-on. No try.

Swinton did produce a late rally - conjuring up a rare moment of passing football, but former Hornet Robinson saw the ball slip from his fingers with the line at his mercy. Oops…

In response, Hornets closed ranks and saw out a hard-working win that edges them ever closer to Championship safety. During post-match celebrations, news that Oldham had lost at home to Toulouse brought a cheer of relief. Defeat for them next week at Swinton will see them relegated. On this showing, we’d advise any Lions fans with a heart condition to keep their medication topped up.

Meantime, Hornets head for two away games at Sheffield and Bradford knowing the standard required to end the season on an upbeat note.