Monday, 21 May 2018

Unlucky Hornets Go Close

Batley 23 - Hornets 14

As Mount Pleasant baked in the afternoon sun, Hornets game agonisingly close to stealing this one from under Batley’s nose.

The somewhat distended scoreline belies how close this game was. It certainly doesn’t reflect the fact that, for large tracts of this game, Hornets were the only side wiling to play lucid football of any description and - but for two harsh refereeing calls - we could easily be writing up an entirely different outcome.

Indeed, while the Batley machine churned away in the background, Hornets produced some of their most fluid, dynamic football of the season thus far - and at the heart of this was a towering performance from Lee Mitchell, who covered every blade of grass on attack and defence in a perpetual motion display that Batley found hard to handle.

Facing a literal uphill first half, it wasn’t the finest of starts for Hornets - making a complete hash of the kick-off to give Batley an early platform. The home side pressed hard but were held-up in goal - then they knocked on. Phew…

Hornets responded positively, shoving Batley’s plus-sized pack back up the hill: Earl Hurst wiped out late by a high shot en-route: Referee Mr Dolan opting for just a penalty. Hornets’ retribution was swift. Fast hands across the park found Dec Kay in the line and his pinpoint cut-out pass found Rob Massam who acrobatically finished in the corner in front of the celebrating travelling support.

Batley got a lucky break on 14 minutes. Mr Dolan appeared to stop play for a Batley forward pass, only to give the home side a mystery penalty. Brambani taking advantage to step through a retreating defence to score. Walker the extras and Batley ahead 6-4.

The home side then capitalised on this momentum shift: a huge line-break by Batley lump Rowe  sending Harrison under the black dot. Walker on target to extend Batley’s lead to 12-4.

With the momentum in their favour, Batley sucked the game into a midfield battle where they feel more comfortable and which restricted Hornets’ desire to move the ball. But on 28 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of free-play magic: Dave Allen forcing a Batley error, Danny Yates gathering the loose ball, launching Rob Massam up the touchline. The Welsh flyer burned 70 metres up the slope and, with defenders gathering, found Deon Cross in support to score the try of the game. Wonderful stuff. Tyler Whittaker added the extras and Hornets were back in the chase at 12-10.

But Batley regrouped, played through their sets and - on 32 minutes - Farrel produced a nice drop-off pass for Bretherton to score. Walker the two and Batley eight points to the good down the slope with half-time looming.

There was still time for Hornets to go close: another attack up the left, but Rob Massam was bundled into touch as he lunged for the corner. Half time 18-10 - and Hornets looking forward to playing downhill.

The second half began with both sides exchanging drop-outs - between which Dec Kay was helped from the field with a leg injury.

As Hornets shuffled the backline (Richard Lepori to Full-back, Alex Gaskell onto the wing), Batley capitalised: Farrell mugging defenders from close range with a cheap dummy. Walker comedically wide with the conversion attempt and Hornets left in search of two scores at 22-10.

Hornets continued to press: a big last tackle kick from Danny Yates falling to Rob Massam who was harried into touch; then Earl Hurst unable to find a way to the line as the defence appeared to part.

On 67 minutes Hornets looked to have the break-through: Lee Mitchell with the break, his pass sending Alex Gaskell into acres of open space - only for Mr Dolan to deem the pass forward. The travelling support unconvinced.

Then Mr Dolan found a knock-on in Danny Yates’ last tackle chip & chase. Frustration.

On 70 minutes, Batley rumbled to life long enough for Farrell to drop a goal that left Hornets needing  three scores to win. And two minutes later, quick-hands wide found Rob Massam with space to round Ainscough and score.

With the clock ticking down (and Batley effectively having parked the bus), Hornets continued to push forward and when Jordan Syme split defenders up the channel to break downfield to launch Deon Cross towards the line, he too was pulled for a forward pass. Agonising stuff.

So, don’t read too much into the scoreline: this was a performance of determination, dynamism and dexterity that deserved more. But, again, we saw in Batley the ability to dictate the pace and pattern of the game at key times - to suck the daylight out of the game and grind it into stasis. Indeed, someone commented afterwards that not only do they know how to play the game, they know how to play the referee - and it’s that kind of ugly nous that comes with experience.

But the Hornets positives were there for all to see: a significantly improved performance and a clear mandate for the players to be expressive and expansive. The noisy appreciation of the travelling support proof that things are heading in the right direction - and the knowledge that a clutch of players are close to a return should give everyone heart for the back half of the season.

Epilogue:
While Hornets were battling at Batley, Swinton tossed away what looked a likely win to hand Barrow a draw with the last kick of the game. Which tees up next weekend’s game at the Summer Bash nicely - if ever two teams needed a win…

Again, we urge all Hornets supporters to get themselves over to Blackpool and get behind the lads. There are still some tickets remaining at the club office, so don’t leave it too long (call in at the office between 10am and 4pm, or call 01706 648004).

This year seating is unreserved, so It’s easier for fans to get together and make some noise: the tenuous plan after yesterday’s game was for Hornets fans to meet in a block as close to the back of the dugouts as possible. So wear your colours (if only so we can find each other), bring your singing voice and let’s have another day to remember.


Thursday, 17 May 2018

Deja-Vu: Batley


it’s with a sense of deja-vu that we head for Batley’s Mount (un)Pleasant for part two of this back-to-back fixture ‘double-header’:  the ‘Dogs having the advantage after last week’s win over a busted Hornets who tried hard but eventually buckled under the strain of a mounting injury list.

A Hornets team pulled out of shape, backfilling with willing bodies, was the perfect foil for Batley’s industrial ‘play-by-process’ style. The game was a series of object lessons in exploiting weaknesses: Force errors, build pressure, exploit uncertainty, run big guys at small guys, run quick guys at tired defenders, suck ‘em in, switch it out. Indeed, Batley played their way through the procedure and die-cut themselves a comfortable win.

Whilst it might be a style untroubled by aesthetics, it is ruthlessly effective So how do Hornets chuck a spanner into the ‘Dogs… er… cogs?

Whilst it was frustrating, last year’s trip to the Mount gives us a big pointer. As Batley ground through the gears, Hornets played a high-tempo, expansive game that  - courtesy of two preposterously poor refereeing decisions - very nearly paid off. Only when Hornets got sucked into the home side’s ‘process’ did Batley make progress.

In his video preview, Alan Kilshaw did confirm the return of Dave Allen, Earl Hurst and Richard Lepori to the squad for Sunday, so there’ll be an uplift in experience in key positions as Hornets look to gain some momentum ahead of next week’s trip to Blackpool.

Indeed, we are told that the club still has some tickets remaining for the Blackpool Bash, so why not come and join us for a great day out.

Meantime, see you Sunday.