GARY Middlehurst hopes his 100th career appearance at Batley Bulldogs tomorrow (Sun) will go hand in glove with Oldham’s first Championship win on the road at the eighth attempt.
It could easily have come a fortnight ago at Halifax where Roughyeds controlled most of the game but lost 12-6 after having what appeared to be a perfectly good try by Middlehurst ruled out for a knock-on in the first few minutes.
Gareth Owen’s kick to the corner was palmed back by Sammy Gee for Middlehurst to pick up and touch down, but to Oldham’s amazement and Middlehurst’s obvious frustration the try was disallowed.
After that, Scott Naylor’s men went desperately close to scoring several times without success before Jamel Chisholm finally got over in the corner to score the Roughyeds’ only try. Defensively, they prevented Halifax scoring in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to earn that elusive first away win, although they had most of the ball and a massive territorial advantage.
So near, yet so far —- not for the first time as Roughyeds continue to adjust to the higher demands of this division.
Narrow margins, bounce of the ball and the referee’s judgement calls can make all the difference; that’s why Middlehurst will be hoping his milestone match (after 24 for Rochdale, 62 for North Wales Crusaders and 13 so far for Oldham) will coincide with a change of fortune for him and his team mates,
Away-day blues have been much in evidence with defeats at Leigh, Featherstone, Workington, Swinton, Whitehaven, Halifax and against Swinton a second time in the Summer Bash at Blackpool.
Fair to say that, with a greater ability to turn pressure into points and a fairer share of 50-50 calls, Roughyeds could easily have been in much happier mood coming home from Workington, Whitehaven and Halifax.
And how on earth did they lose 25-24 at Bloomfield Road last Sunday after getting what should have been a stranglehold on the game by leading 20-0 at half-time ?
It was never going to be easy in this hugely competitive division, but it wasn’t in the script to play second fiddle to the likes of Swinton and the two Cumbrian clubs.
Those defeats have piled the pressure on Naylor’s men to reverse the trend at Bower Fold and have increased the urgency for Roughyeds to find a way to win on their travels.
It’s a tall order to do it at third-in-the-table Batley, who are going flat out to qualify for the ‘Middle Eights’ and who will also be seeking to avenge their shock 28-12 defeat at Bower Fold in March.
Only Swinton have won at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium in the Championship this year where the Bulldogs beat Leigh 24-22 on the opening day of the season and later drew with Bradford Bulls 24-24.
Swinton stunned them to win 32-24, however, and Whitehaven twice held them to one point — 37-36 in the Cup and 24-23 in the league.
If Roughyeds are to succeed where the Cumbrians narrowly failed they will have to play for 80 minutes with their Hull KR heads on — in sharp contrast to what they served up in the second half at Blackpool last Sunday — and they will need to find a way to significantly increase their ‘points for’ figures.
They’ve scored fewer points than any other team in the division, but on the flip side they’ve got the best defensive record of all their rivals in the bottom half, having conceded a massive 149 fewer than Swinton, 139 fewer than Workington and 122 fewer than Whitehaven.
Stats like that show Naylor’s men have stepped up to the Championship mark defensively, but have still some way to go in terms of putting points on the board.