Sunday, 20 July 2014

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Offside

Workington 30 Hornets 18

Anyone wondering where Cumbrians get their reputation for being dour miserablists from could do worse than spend an afternoon at Workington. From first minute to last, the hardy knot of Hornets fans had to suffer a relentless wave of whining, griping and moaning from the locals. Every play the ball offside; every pass forward; all three officials bent, blind or bastardly. Or a combination of the three.

And all this on a day that the sun cracked the flags and their team won. God knows what they're like when they lose in the rain.

On the field Hornets got off to a shoddy start, allowing the kick-off to roll sloppily dead. Fortunately Workington knocked on from the resulting possession.

Hornets finally got started after 4 minutes when two pieces of trickery from Lewis Sheridan (a neat one-two and a reverse kick that forced a drop-out) built pressure, but James Dandy was held up over the line.

With both sides tangled in an arm wrestle, it took a moment of freakish fortune to crack the Hornets defence. In a hurry to switch play, Town's acting half dropped the ball cold at his feet, but referee Kendall bizzarely waved not only play-on, but also wiped the tackle count and, with Hornets' defence scrambling the home side worked the ball wide for Carter to score by the flag. Forber the extras off the touchline for 6-nil.

This heralded a horribly scrappy period for Hornets. Gifted a frustrating last-tackle penalty for holding down on half-way, Workington began their set 10 metres from the Hornets line and, in a carbon copy of its predecessor , it was Hulme this time on the end of the move to score. Forber hit the post with the kick: 10-nil. To make matters worse, Hornets hoofed the kick-off straight out to invite Workington to have another run at them. This time, though the defence held firm as the king-sized Town pack piled in from close range.

Hornets responded well. A towering kick from Lewis Sheridan was dropped by Carter under no pressure, giving Hornets a good platform deep in Town territory. Struggling to find a way through, switching Paul Crook back to stand-off delivered an instant dividend when swift hands right sent Dave Llewellyn careering in for a try that had the locals grumbling further. Crooky with the two; 10-6.

With Hornets now making steady inroads, it was another error from Mr Kendall that pulled the rug from under them. Making a complete hash of a decision on a Hornets' 'free-play' following a Town knock-on, he gave the home side the feed at the scrum. To add insult to injury, Hornets were mugged out of the back of the scrum as Hulme darted through the narrowest of gaps to score; 16-6.

Clearly shaken, Hornets got the yips: first shipping another penalty late in the tackle count, then dropping the ball 1st tackle in a great attacking position.

Having shouted for 'offside' for the entire first half, the locals finally got their wish on 39 minutes as Hornets got snagged and Town were swept 60 metres downfield, but they were beaten by the clock. Half-time 16-6: the grumbling Cumbrians berating the officials from the field at the end of a frustrating, scrappy half.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably more purpose. After just 4 minutes John Cookson produced a miracle-pass out of the back of the tackle to send James Dandy scampering under the black-dot. Crooky the two, 16-12: game-on.

The game then entered an ugly, scrappy period as both sides struggled to find any fluidity. Workington coming closest to scoring - stopped by a cracking try-saving tackle by Shannon McDonnell.

The stalemate was broken with two moments of inspiration either side of the hour: first a neat one-two sent McAvoy in to score under the posts, then by far the biggest 40/20 we've seen this season from Lupton gave him the platform to launch a teasing bomb that was snaffled by Mossop who scored out wide. Within the space of two minutes Hornets were 28-12 down and chasing a bonus point.

Having sparked briefly, the game shrank back into a gritty scramble and, when Town were given a close-range penalty for a spurious high tackle on 70 minutes Forber took the two for 30-12. The locals in moaning-overdrive "Ya should'a run it".

Despite the game's deterioration into a shapeless mess, Hornets kept plugging away and were rewarded on 76 minutes when Lewis Sheridan intercepted a sloppy pass from Lupton to outpace the Workington cover from 80 metres and score. Crooky the two and Hornets with the bonus point in the bag at 30-18.

Having written at length here about the need to find a way to 'lose well', there's irony in taking a bonus point out of Workington - the masters of the 'constructive defeat'. But in a sloppy, fragmented game that needed big hearts to dig in to get anything from it, this was a creditable performance by a Hornets side shorn of the twin attacking threats of Ryan Millard and Wayne English.

Needless to say, the Hornets faithful were philosophical about the result: a hard-working performance, a bonus point and an implausibly warm day in Cumbria. The locals, conversely, grumbled to the very end. Whilst most applauded Town from the field, the bloke next to us turned on his heel and as he passed us, muttered "Bloody rubbish."

Guess there's just no pleasing some people.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Sunday's Coming: Workington

Workington earlier today - the crowds flock to celebrate
nine bonus points.
We've spoken at great length here over the last few weeks about how finding a way to 'lose well' could be the key to survival in this particularly punitive Championshiop season. And no-one has mastered the art of getting points for losing quite as well as Workington ToWn. With only one win more than Hornets, they have a staggering 12 points more, courtesy of NINE bonus points. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, three free wins for coming second in nine two horse races. 

We've always been ambivalent about the bonus point, seeing both its value in encouraging teams to compete and its stupidity for basically rewarding losers - but Workington have turned 'losing well' into an art form - and sit only a point behind Whitehaven in 7th!

The other thing that's caught our eye with Workington is their dual reg relationship with Wigan. Just as we've striven to make our partnership with Saints work as effectively for both parties as possible, there's been a steady stream of pie-eating talent heading up the M6 all season. Indeed Wigan prodigies Lewis Tierney and Jack Murphy weighed in with ToWn's three tries last weekend as Workington snuck past Keighley by 16 to 12 in the archetypal game of two halves.

Sitting on a comfortable 16-nil half time lead, Worky's wheels came off in the second period, much to the disappointment of coach Phil Vievers. Speaking in the News & Star this week he said: “Why do we seem to let teams back into it in the second half? It’s about a mentality issue. It’s about them listening to instruction and then applying that to the game… We know we can stop people scoring and there was only six or seven minutes when they scored, but I thought that was irrelevant really… we’ll sit down during the week and look at the video and take the positives out of it and address the negatives of what we shouldn’t be doing and move onto Rochdale at home".

With four wins on the trot - including a 'shock' defeat of Featherstone - ToWn have a bit of momentum. And with wins up at Derwent Park pretty hard to come by at the best of times, Hornets will need to reprise the best bits of the last two weeks' performances to keep the pressure on Swinton and 'Big Spendng North Wales Crusaders™' above us. Indeed, with North Wales at Dewsbury and Swinton at Doncaster (who derailed the Leigh juggernaut last week), favourable results could see Hornets leapfrog both into 11th - and pull Workington closer to the pack.

With 8 games and 24 points still to play for there's still plenty to believe in. So stick three mates in the car, treat yourself to a lovely day out in the lakes - and get over to Workington to get behind the lads.

Official RFL Match Preview
Workington Town coach Phil Veivers has the option of recalling Declan Hulme following his recent suspension. Town have now won four consecutive games to move within three points of fifth-placed Dewsbury Rams. Veivers was frustrated with his side’s second-half display against Keighley Cougars last week, but is now focusing on a fifth straight victory.

Veivers said: “Our confidence is bound to be high because we’ve got a bit of momentum about us.”
Hornets coach Ian Talbot hopes to have Mike Ratu and Gareth Langley available for selection, while Shaun Robinson could also feature after joining Rochdale from Dewsbury Rams.
Talbot’s men won 54-22 against Barrow Raiders last week. He said: “If we compete set for set with any team at this level, we’ll give ourselves a chance. That will be our aim, and then hopefully that frustrates Workington."
“They were the bonus point masters at one stage, but since then they’ve won four games and are competing for ninth spot, so they’ll be the favourites. We’ll just concentrate on ourselves and what we can control.”

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Hornets Rack-Up a Barrow-Load of Points

Hornets 54-Barrow 22

And so it came to pass: Bobbie Goulding's return to Spotand sparked briefly with the threat of an upset, but ended with his well-beaten Barrow packed of back up the M6 on the end of a good old-fashioned flogging.

Despite a stuttering start that saw Barrow snatch two early-bird tries from Wiper (in the first set) and Mossop (after 10 minutes) to leap into a 10-nil lead, once Hornets' gears engaged, this was relentless one-way traffic.

On 15 minutes, Hornets began to build pressure. Double drop-outs forced by a Lewis Sheridan kick through and a probing Paul Crook dink gave Hornets a good platform. And when Barrow coughed a soft penalty it seemed inevitable when Lewis Sheridan jinked through a series of flailing tackles to score a great solo try. Crooky the two and Hornets were up and running.

And whatever Lewis could do, his half-back partner Ryan Millard does equally well:  producing a sparkling solo effort of his own on 24 minutes. Crooky the two, Hornets with a lead they never looked like relinquishing.

Hornets were now pushing hard, guilty maybe of forcing passes in search of opportunities. And when Barrow deigned to attack they were repelled by determined defence.

On the half hour Ryan Millard unveiled a delicate chip, gathered by Sean Casey who fed Matt Dawson in for a well crafted try. Crooky the extras of the touchline for 16-10.

Just three minutes later Joe Greenwood was held-up over the line after a great approach-set. The 10m restart set up a cheeky one metre sucker try from Alex McClurg. This time Sheridan with the two: 24-10

On the next set, the Millard-Sheridan combination cut the Barrow defence wide-open, but the last pass was deemed forward and the try struck-off. No matter, within two minutes Hornets had come up with a try that had more than a hint of the freak about it. Lewis Sheridan's last tackle kick, Matt Dawson hitting the receiving defender perfectly, the ball knocked loose into the hands of the chasing Jordan Case who scopped the ball off his boots to score. Sheridan the two and Hornets in complete control, 30-10 at the break.

Within minutes of the restart Hornets were compelled to remove Ryan Millard with a knee injury after he was targetted in consecutive tackle. With the Hornets line shuffling to accommodate the reintroduction of Paul Crook, Barrow repeated their long-distance try act, stringing together a series of passes over 80 metres for Shaw to score. He also added the two: 30-16.

A brief Barrow rally was quelled by some stern Hornets defence, and when a clinically, ruthlessly direct set drove the Raiders 70 metres downfield, it was capped by a twisting, mazy run that took Alex McClurg under the black dot. Crooky the two. Almost immediately Hornets struck again, this time Jordan Case in off a short-ball after Barrow had coughed a bomb. Crooky flawless as Hornets cruised past the 40 mark.

Indeed, Hornets were now irresistable and when Stuart Litller took a last tackle ball to the gain line, he instigated another moment of freakish fortune. Seemingly wrapped up in the tackle, he found the wherewithal to drop the ball onto his toe. With the defence occupied, Jordan Case produced a piece of sleight of hand to send Paul Crook through to score. Just for good measure he added the two from the touchline and with an hour gone, Barrow's challenge was effectively over at 48-16.

Indeed, Hornets pretty much declared. Barrow increasingly out of ideas; Hornets playing their way through the sets with with an almost cruel relish.

Barrow did flicker a little before their light was eventually extinguished: rag-handed winger Grant eventually catching something that came his way in the 75th minute to score. Shaw the two, 48-22.

It was fitting that Hornets should have the last say in this one, and when John Cookson launched himself onto a short ball in the last minute there was no stopping him; crashing in to bring up the half century. Crooky the two for good measure. 54-22.

The game ended in concerning fashion when Barrow threequarter Bradley Goulding got his head position all-wrong in a collision with Dave Llewellyn, but immediate medical attention and the application of oxygen got him gingerly to his feet as the hooter sounded.

Once again, Hornets showed just what this side can do when it clicks; playing direct, high-tempo football off the back of the Millard-Sheridan-Crook axis and some relentless forward play.  

There's no doubt that next week's roadtrip to Workington will pose a real test of this revitalised Hornets' mettle (Workington sneaked a low-scoring win at Keighley this week), but with Fev and Barrow in the bag, we can travel with some confidence.

And, with plenty of football still to be played, maybe there's still reason to believe.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Sunday's Coming: Barrow Raiders

As you might expect, there really is only one story in town up at Barrow

This Sunday sees Bobbie Goulding's return to Spotland, but his magic seems to be taking its time to work as Barrow remain firmly anchored to the foot of the Championship.

Do the maths: 3 + 4= 5 matches.
But we won't have to worry too much about his idiosyncratic playing/pseudo-refereeing style as - by our calculations - he's still serving a 5-match ban picked up after he was dismissed at Doncaster: found guilty by the RFL disciplinary panel of disputing the decision of a match official and using aggressive language and aggressive body language. Goulding was also fined £50.

There's no doubting Goulding's influence in Hornets' reverse fixture at Craven Park last month. Despite being described by one commentator as 'a water-carrier with a kicking game', his presence in two spells was sufficient to raise Barrow's game beyond the ordinary.

The Raiders come to Spotland on Sunday with Bobbie not only looking to get another one over his former club, but also smarting off the back of a derby defeat last week. Racing into a 12-nil lead after 15 minutes - and clinging to a 12-10 lead at the break - Barrow had a second half to forget. Shipping three tries in 12 minutes, left them scrapping for a bonus point as they eventually went down 30-18 to not-so-near Cumbrian neighbours Whitehaven to edge closer to the trapdoor.

Thankfully, though, Bobbie has a plan to change fortunes at the wrong end of the UK's longest cul-de-sac  - and, by his own calculations, it'll take just three years to put things right.

Indeed, that's the length of contract extension that he's currently negotiating with Barrow Chairman David Sharpe. Quoted in the North West Evening Mail this week, Goulding said: " I love the club, it is going to be my team next year and for the next three years and we can only be positive. I want to build the club. I want stability in the place. I want to build the foundations of the club so that it can go forward for the next 20 years. The foundations have got to be solid. I might not be around when the cherry goes on top of the cake but if I can lay foundations, then I have done my job.”

We're not ordering the cake just yet…

In the Hornets camp, there's a bit of a spring in the step after last week's gutsy battering of Featherstone. Speaking on Ryan Millard's Championship Player of the Week award - and Hornets' Kingstone Press Performance of the Week award -  Ian Talbot said:  "Everything Ryan tried seemed to come off… he was the leader that we signed...  he was back to his best on Sunday."

"The main thing was the way that result turned around our recent performances," Tol added. "We’d been looking forward to coming back home and playing on our own meadow, so to put such a spirited and complete performance together over 80 minutes was very pleasing."

Clearly, with games running out, wins are at an absolute premium, but winning is a habit and - as Ryan Millard said after the Fev game - that win means nothing is we can't back it up this week. 

So let's get there on Sunday and do our bit.

Official RFL Preview
Rochdale Hornets coach Ian Talbot says there is “a buzz in the camp” after last week’s win over Featherstone Rovers.

Now Talbot wants to maintain the momentum by securing a win over Barrow Raiders on Sunday.
Talbot said: “I doubted the result with five minutes to go, but massive credit needs to go to our lads – they reacted positively and got themselves back in front when it mattered most.
“This game against Barrow is massive for both teams, and I’m sure it’ll be one Bobbie (Goulding) has marked down as ‘must win’.
“If we can get a good result and put ourselves five points clear of them, that’s great, but I’m looking at getting three points closer to Swinton rather than three away from the bottom.”
Stuart Littler and Dave Llewellyn will both be checked before Sunday’s game, but Tony Suffolk is available for the hosts.
Raiders coach Bobbie Goulding hopes to have Liam Campbell available, while Ben Karalius and Bradley Goulding are also expected to be pushing for places.
Coach Goulding is hoping for a big improvement on last week’s defeat against Whitehaven.
He said: “We just don’t know how to win football games. We just do not have the experience, the nous, or the intelligence.”