Sunday, 11 March 2018

Hornets Play Their Cards Right

Hornets 24 - Barrow 12

Jarrod Stack’s red card for his brutal assault on Gary Middlehurst on the half hour turned this game on its throbbing head. As the Cumbrian radio commentators railed about how referee Mr Rosleigh had spoiled the game, Middlehurst hauled himself off the floor - a walking metaphor for Hornets who stepped up to hand a brutally blunt Barrow a lesson in imaginative, expansive football.

The game had begun tilted in the visitors’ favour: Mr Rosleigh producing a bizarre decision as Barrow coughed a short kick-off only to be handed the feed at the consequent scrum. Fortunately the visitors ran up a cul-de-sac of their own making, handing over the ball no more than 15 metres from  from where the original scrum took place.

Barrow struck lucky again four minutes later. This time Jo Taira landing the first of a series of bell-ringing shots, forcing the ball free. Barrow again given the feed. Jo’s response was swift, next set landing another blistering tackle.

On 10 minutes, Hornets shrugged off the setbacks: first Danny Yates’ scampering break came to nought when his pass slipped teasingly from the supporting Middelhurst’s grip. Then Lewis Palfrey launching a teasing, kick only for the chasers to be deemed offside. No, us neither…

On the quarter hour mark Barrow produced a rare moment of lucid football: a last tackle ship to an edge where - somehow - Cresswell wriggled past a clutch of gathering defenders to score by the flag: nil-4.

Hornets looked to have caught a break when Barrow dropped the kick-off possession cold on the first tackle, but - again - Mr Rosleigh saw a ripping offence that gifted Barrow 50 metres. Having bludgeoned their way upfield, Hulme arrived at pace off a short ball to crash-in. Marwood finding his range to ease the visitors out to nil-10.

The game then degenerated into a disjointed scrap: forced passes, more oddball refereeing and a string of 50:50s going Barrow’s way: Marwood’s 25th minute penalty carrying the air of inevitability.

Then came Stack’s brain fart: an appallingly executed tackle chopped Middlehurst to the floor; Lepori leading the Hornets’ charge into the ensuing affray; the incensed Hornets fans now baying for Mr Rosleigh to act accordingly. Stack saw red, Lepori yellow and you could sense the momentum shift.

Hornets went straight on the attack: Rob Massam bundled into touch as Hornets doubled-up their wingers up the right edge: Barrow hanging on until the hooter to go in at the break hoping a 12-point lead would be enough.

Hornets emerged after the break in determined mood and three rapid-fire tries knocked the guts out of the visitors. A spat of handbags after just three minutes revealed Barrow’s modus operand, but Hornets shipped the ball wide where Earl Hurst went close and Lewis Palfrey was on hand to exploit the numerical advantage. Barrow then slammed a high shot into the impressive Dec Gregory. From the ensuing possession Hornets drove the Raiders back towards their own line where Pat Moran arrived, booming onto a short-ball to bully his way over. Palfrey the extras for 10-12. Then, on 50 minutes Hornets produced a try out off the top drawer to take the lead. A last tackle kick to the left flank, Rob Massam showing great strength and awareness to keep the ball alive, Deon Cross alert to the opportunity, looping round the outside to score. 14-12 - Barrow’s body language a picture.

Reduced to breaking up the flow of the game, Barrow were reduced to one man drives and scraping penalties. Hornets on the other hand played some tidy direct football and - on the hour mark - Jo Taira produced the sweetest of short lay-offs for Lee Mitchell to score on his 150th outing. Lewis Palfrey the extras, Hornets now rampaging at 20-12.

Barrow continued to poke and prod at a resolute defence, but on 68 minutes Hornets produced an acrobatic aerial try: Rob Massam soaring above his opposite number to take a pinpoint kick in-flight for a spectacular touchdown that brought the main stand to its feet. 24-12 and Barrow all but gone.

The visitors did produce some late pressure: held up over the line twice and forcing a couple of drop-outs, but Hornets stood firm to seal a deserved win.

It would be easy to surmise that Hornets were handed a red ‘get out of jail’ card. But the reality is that the only real football on show came from the home side - and Barrow’s plan-A reliance on big lads running straight and hard needs a bit more finesse when things go south.

Ultimately, you can only play the cards you’re dealt and Hornets did what was necessary as Barrow ran out of luck, gas, ideas and time. It was the win we needed and we can build from here. Hornets the better side: hands down.