Sunday, 24 February 2019

Ground-Dog Day

Batley 18 - Hornets 12

You know what you're going to get from a day out at Mount Pleasant. A robust encounter, a couple of flaky reffing decisions, a moment when you think the result is on and then the game almost imperceptibly whisked from under your nose.

The 2019 version of the 'Batley Game Scenario' had all the frustrating hallmarks of the previous seven previous trips there - all of which ended in defeat. A proper bogey team.

Despite an early try up the hill by former Hornet Lewis Galbraith - taking a sabbatical out on the wing - Hornets matched the home side in for most of the first 30 minutes. But it was attritional stuff, both sides camping out in each other's halves with little to show for their efforts.

Hornets did show signs of threat out wide where Shaun Ainscough, Paddy Flynn, Jordan Case and Brandon Wood teased and probed, but once the ball moved infield the game threatened to stall as both packs cancelled each other out.

The second Batley try had an air of the inevitable about it. Piggy-backed upfield by back-to-back penalties and consolidated by three moments of questionable interpretation of the Laws by Mr Staveley, Batley shoved the ball back to their left edge where Galbraith ducked under a tackle by Jordan Case to score on the half hour mark. Scott two from two with the boot.

But Hornets continues to press and when Adam Lawton entered the fray he had an immediate impact - ploughing over defenders from close range: this week with his second touch. Dan Abram the extras and Hornets went to the sheds 12-6 down - having had the advantage of the slope.

The majority of the second half was one for the purists - comprising almost entirely of 'arm-wrestle' interspersed by both teams launching decidedly unchallenging kicks downfield. Hornets did threaten briefly - a kick through bouncing off a Batley player, regathered in space only for Mr Staveley to call play back for offiside - ignoring the touch by the Bulldogs defender to the travelling fans' frustration.

Batley showed their intent on the hour when Scott slotted home yet another penalty to extend Batley's lead to 14-4. Yawns all-round.

The last ten minutes produced a flurry of activity which hinted that - under the veneer of workman-like endeavour - there was a game struggling to get out.

Batley lit the blue touch-paper on 70 minutes when Bambani's kick found its way to Wood, who had just enough space to send Pound-Shop Vin Diesel Reittie in by the flag.

Hornets' response was imnmediate. A short kick-off regathered; some excellent approach work; some pressure built close to the line and Lee Mitchel arriving on Stu Howarth's shoulder to crash in and score. Abram the two from wide out - and Hornets left with five minutes to salvage an unlikely draw.

Despite some frenzied Hornets attack, Batley clung-on to nick it. All eerily familiar.

In the wash-up, this was game decided on what didn't happen, rather than what did. Despite lots of decent field position, Hornets couldn't really find that killer pass or kick to unlock a robust Batley defence. And our kick-chase was pretty ordinary all afternoon - often a solitary effort, gifting Batley a running start on returning the ball.  Discipline was an issue too: eight first half penalties inviting Batley to attack the Hornets line, the final count of 12-6 telling its own story.

But it would be too uncharitable to just complain. Hornets' workrate was excellent and the defence was pretty solid bar the extreme edges. Indeed, the effort was there for all to see - it just deserved the reward of more incisive football off the back of it.

It's also worth remembering that this was the eighth consecutive defeat at Mount Pleasant - showing that even the more successful Hornets teams of recent years have failed to break the cycle.

Let's just hope we get to go back next year to do it all again.