Monday, 13 January 2020

Down by Law

Hornets 18 - Oldham 12

The Law Cup is a not only a venerable institution, it sets a tone for the season. Last year, it went the way of the underdog as Hornets flapped, flailed and failed to fire. With roles reversed, Hornets' long-suffering loyalists hoped for something similar - and their redoubtable faith came good as their new-look side handed the noisy neighbours a lesson in hard graft and commitment.

On a rain-sodden afternoon, Hornets started brightly: a smart break from Sam Freeman ending in Oldham conceding a penalty: Andy Lea going close, only to fumble the ball.

10 minutes in Oldham forced a drop-out off a last tackle kick, but came up with a knock-on of their own.

As Oldham continued to misfire, Hornets gained confidence.

An attack on 14 minutes was halted after eyecatching half-back Adam Jackson was clattered in back-play. No action taken.

On 17 minutes, a big Shaun Ainsworth break up the guts of a stretched Oldham defence created space to the left, Lewis Sheridan outpacing the Roughyeds outside backs to open the scoring.

Oldham were visibly rattled; now full of errors, spewing penalties. On the half hour Shaun Ainscough took the narrow route to the goal-line and - with defenders descending - found a miracle offload for Sam Freeman to score out wide. Hornets good value for their 8-nil lead.

Three minutes later, Oldham found themselves again retreating to their goal-line. This time Callum Marriott found a delicious pass to slip Andy Lea in under the black dot. Sam Freeman with the extras and Hornets fans exultant as their side headed to the sheds 14-nil ahead.

The second half started with Oldham forcing a drop-out from a big charge-down ricochet. On 45 minutes a stepping 40 metre kick return from San Freeman ended in the now the traditional Law Cup Punch-Up™ - both teams dashing in, handbags swinging.

As Matt Calland began to rotate his extensive bench, Hornets' shuffled shape took time to settle. Oldham capitalised, scoring all of their points in a four minute spell: Hewitt off a big break (despite a despairing last-ditch tackle effort from Lewis Sheridan), then Dan Abram off a carbon-copy break by Langtree. Abram on target with both conversions and nerves jangling on the hour at 14-12.

Oldham applied some pressure: forcing a drop-out, then a dubious penalty for ball-stealing. It took some determined defence to deny Kay in the gloom of the far corner.

As the newly introduced personnel bedded in - and Sean Penkywicz returned to direct proceedings - Hornets regained control. On 65 minutes, Shaun Ainscough again drew defenders to him. A quick play the ball and some neat hands fed Luke Fowden into space to restore Hornets' six point advantage. Oldham's response was to fail to send the kick-off 10 metres.

Sensing the game slipping away, OIdham threw the kitchen sink at the Hornets defence in the last 10 minutes, bit couldn't crack the resolute red, white and blue wall. Even as the game entered its last minute, Oldham were gifted possession in the Hornets 20m zone, but ran out of ideas. Ultimately,  Matt Calland's blueprint for League 1 redemption proving too good for Oldham's blunt-instrument approach.

In the wash-up, Hornets looked well-organised, enthusiastic and they worked hard for every inch -  Sean Penkywicz and Shaun Ainscough the tormentors-in-chief giving Oldham the shits every time they got involved. Up front Luke Fowden had his best game in a Hornets shirt, ably supported by Callum Marriott and Andy Lea.

Matt Diskin came with what looked like his first 17 and they were found wanting in most departments. They start their Championship campaign at Widnes, but you get the feeling that Tim Sheens won't be losing much sleep. It could be a long slog to September for the Roughyeds.

For Hornets fans every victory over the old enemy is sweet, but this broke the hoodoo of the last few horrendous months. You could sense the relief. And you have to celebrate beating Oldham: that's the law.