Sunday, 13 January 2019

Up and Running

Rochdale Mayfield 12 - Hornets 18

Drizzle Kicks: a bit of a damp one at Mayfield
Every day is a school day and, at late notice, Hornets class of 2019 assembled at a soggy Mayfield Sports Centre to take on Rochdale Mayfield for its first lesson of the year. With a squad including 13 new signings, there was much for Carl Forster to learn as his heavily rotated side saw off an impressive Mayfield side which played with an eye-catching combination of directness and off-the cuff spontaneity.

Indeed, a clash of styles was evident as Hornets' structured approach was countered by Mayfield's desire to take risks and go off script - and it made for an entertaining (and occasionally fractious) contest.

The new Hornets era began with Seta Tala losing the flight of the kick-off and gifting Mayfield an early attacking chance. As it was they forced the ball into touch and when Dec Gregory bought a penalty from non-square markers, Hornets eased 80 metres upfield, but were unable to build early pressure.

Mayfield too struggled to capitalise on early possession and when handbags loomed after a Hornets break off a dropped pass, the home side were stretched up the right channel where Seta Tala opened the scoring to give Hornets a 0-4 lead.

Mayfield hit back: forcing a drop-out off a Sheridan dink into the in-goal - and then looking to have scored, only for referee Mr Smail to spot a forward pass.

With the rain now persistent, the game became scrappy and it took until the 28th minute for new-boy Callum Wood to skip across the face of a retreating defence to extend Hornets' lead. Tyler Whittaker with a simple conversion and Hornets looking comfortable at 0-10.

But the home side produced a maverick, touch-finding kick-off to build some momentum and when Hartley followed a 33rd minute kick into the in-goal, the Hornets defence hesitated just long-enough for him to touch down. Hartley added the extras and - as the gloom gathered - the sides headed for the sheds at 6-10.

A much-changed Hornets emerged for the second half  - and Mayfield took advantage forcing an early drop-out driving Dan Abram backwards with virtually his first touch. Things got worse when Mr Smail snagged Hornets for offside at the drop-out. Mayfield took full advantage. Connaughton arriving at pace to crash in from close range; Sheridan popped over the extras and Hornets fans raised eyebrows as Mayfield too a 12-10 lead.

It didn't take long for Hornets to seize back the initiative: Stu Howarth lofting the ball into space, Brandon Wood winning the race to touch down (12-14).

Three minutes later Hornets went left again, this time some neat interplay unzipped the defence for skipper Lee Mitchell to score: 12-18.

With conditions now the dominant factor, quality football was at a premium and it took an old-skool kerfuffle involving Seta Tala and the entire Mayfield side to raise the tempo a little.

How They Lined-up
Hornets were first to respond: Scott Moore showing a deft touch, kicking long for Shaun Ainscough to chase, the winger harrying the cover into touch. Mayfield then produced a last hurrah of their own - held up over the line after a neat chip and chase.

In the end, Hornets had just enough in the tank to see off a Mayfield side that looks more than capable of putting in a serious challenge in the NCL Premier league this year. And in doing so, there was a lesson to be learned by both sides.

Whilst looking for structure, shape and execution, Hornets could learn from Mayfield's desire to back themselves in moments of impromptu creativity. In contrast, the surety of a disciplined structure would give Mayfield a platform to play the way they want  and reduce the risks in doing so.

All up, this was a tough hit-out for both sides, with RL in Rochdale the real winner.

And with Oldham springing a suprise victory over Barrow at Craven Park, next week's Law Cup should provide another test of Hornets' progress.