Monday, 26 February 2018

Hard-working Hornets keep Killer’s Promise.

Hornets 20 - Halifax 26

Alan Kilshaw promised a response to last Monday’s disappointing game - and his side delivered. In spades.

Halifax carry real ambitions for the top four and beyond, but on this showing looked unlikely candidates for any shade of Championship glory as Hornets went agonisingly close to an old-skool upset.

Indeed, this was a proper game of inches; where tiny margins made the difference as both sides refused to back down from what is currently referred to as ‘the grind’.

There was little between the sides early doors, Halifax exerting some early pressure courtesy of some over-fussy refereeing. An early penalty for the visitors as full-back Sharp launched himself heading into on-rushing defenders as he gathered a kick (contact in the air), then Jo Taira snagged for what was - by his standards - a glancing contact that saw his intended target go down like a sack of spuds.

A ‘Fax break after 7 minutes was halted by a perfectly executed Richard Lepori tackle, but as Hornets responded with some incisive, expansive football, the last pass slipped teasingly from Deon Cross’ fingers.

That man Cross was involved again two minutes later when he intercepted a ropey Fax pass and hit the gas into open field - only for Mr Grant to play the ‘disadvantage’ and bring Hornets back to their own 10m line for a forward pass. We know… us neither…

On 11 minutes a snappy, direct approach-set containing a testing Richard Lepori break laid the foundation for Hornets to go wide where Rob Massam skinned his opposite number to score. Harvey Livett aded thew two and Hornets looked good value for the lead.

On the quarter mark, frustration at the ruck saw ‘Fax ship a soft penalty and Harvey Livett extended the lead by two points.

Unable to gain any meaningful advantage, Halifax looked short on ideas and long on exasperation - players in back-play, arms up, arguing with the referee. Hornets now in the groove - completing sets, drilling the ball into corners, walking Halifax back to start on their own 20m line.

On the half hour Lewis Palfrey was removed from the fray with a shoulder injury, then Halifax got a penalty - exploiting a reshuffling Hornets backline to break downfield where Earl Hurst produced a try-saving tackle. With numbers both sides, Halifax ran out of ideas. Pretty ordinary.

With the half draining away, Halifax finally found some momentum. A big 40/20, then a penalty took them within striking distance, but great defence forced the error. The next set produced a moment of base comedy. A Fax player lying in the ruck, Hornets play the ball under his body, Hornets acting half unable to get to the ball, Hornets penalty, Halifax player now magically injured. And we thought panto season was over…

With a minute left to play, Mr Grant gave Halifax back to back penalties that swept them 70 metres downfield, where hooker Kaye slumped in from acting half from 18 inches. Nice to watch. Tyrer hit the two and Halifax somehow still in it - 8-6 at the break.

Hornets began the second half with more sterling defence. And when Halifax shipped a penalty, Hornets marched downfield where Dave Allen drove the ball into traffic, sucking in tacklers before releasing a peach of a short ball for Pat Moran to score through a flat-footed defence. Harvey Livett raised the flags and Hornets ahead 14-6.

Halifax responded swiftly, playing some rare football for Sharp to score out wide (Tyrer lashing the kick spectacularly wide into the Pearl St end).

Then one of those freak moments that turn games. On the hour A Halifax set going nowhere ended in a kick and hope chip into space. The ball bounced cruelly in front of Deon Cross and Grix just managed to juggle it under control to score. Tyrer the extras and Halifax in front at 14-16 - as much to their surprise as everyone else’s.

But Hornets responded positively. More solid approach work, surmounted by Harvey Livett’s deliciously disguised dink that fell just beyond the reach of Danny Yates.

Once again let off, Halifax went wide where Sharp’s show & go up the left ended in a try. 14-20. Halifax now on a roll, thanks to an escalating penalty count.

On 65 minutes Hornets were pulled for a a high shot that was only seen by Mr Grant, Halifax sought the two; Tyrer once more executing like the bloke from your block of seats kicking for £50 at half time. Wide, low - and really bloody awful.

With the game approaching its denouement, there was a frantic passage of play off the back of a Jo Taira pop-out pass, halted when Halifax defenders ripped the ball from Harvey Livett’s grasp. Oh - and Halifax were given the feed at the scrum after Mr Grant failed to consult his guide dog.

To add insult to injury, Halifax were hauled upfield from yet another mystery penalty, where Barber prised a hole in a tired defence to score. Tyrer - just - added the two for 14-26.

Hornets marched straight downfield, played a bit of tidy football in front of the Halifax defence and - just as he was announced man-of-the-match - Harvey Livett showed good strength to wrestle through defenders and score. The extras a formality and 90 seconds remaining at 20-26.

Hornets moved the ball around and, with Trevor’s hand hovering over the hooter, launched a kick & chase into the space behind the Halifax defence. As Murrell scooped up the ball with the hooter sounding, Mr Grant called play back for an off the ball incident, giving Hornets the chance to kick downfield for one last miracle-play.

Fittingly it fell to Harvey Livett to produce a teasing, trickling kick through the Halifax line, but they managed to get enough bodies round the ball to hang on for the win. Breathless stuff.

Despite the defeat, Alan Kilshaw seemed the happier of the two coaches in post-match comments. Richard Marshall said it felt like a defeat - though, in reality, Halifax played as well as Hornets allowed them to.

The real positive is that Hornets have set a standard. Halifax fully expect that they will be challenging for the top four this season - which puts us in a good place. Yes, Hornets were scrappy at times; yes there were errors and yes, a 13-3 penalty count would punish the best of sides. But we can definitely say that we now have a benchmark for future performances.

And - looking at Leigh’s league position this morning - I know which team and which coach I’d put my faith in.