A MATTY Wilkinson try and five goals by acting skipper Paul Crook gave hard-working Roughyeds a memorable and fully deserved opening-day Betfred League 1 win at Whitehaven.
On a soggy pitch and in the cold and the rain this was no game for the fancy-football lover, but such was Oldham’s level of commitment, sheer hard work and enthusiasm that they stopped Haven scoring a single point and triumphed 14-0 to win at the Recreation Ground for the first time in 17 years.
Delighted, head coach Scott Naylor said: “This is going to be one of the toughest places we’ll visit all season, so it’s great to head for home with our first league points in the bag.
“Conditions inevitably made for a slow game and in many ways it was similar to the one we had at Barrow in pre-season.
“We applied ourselves well, made few mistakes coming away from our own line and defended solidly when we had to.
“When down to 12 men (following David Eccleston’s spell in the sin-bin for slowing down a Haven play-the-ball) we survived four defensive sets on our own line, defending well and looking composed.
“The performance overall in bad conditions showed we have the mental and physical toughness to win away from home when the going gets tough .”
Jack Spencer left the field in the second half for attention to an elbow injury, but it is not thought to be serious.
As Haven got more and frustrated at their inability to crack open a rock-solid Oldham defence, they started to give penalties away — 14 overall and eight in a row in the second-half.
Said Haven player-coach Carl Forster: “When Oldham were down to 12 men we should have taken advantage, but we looked as if we had never played together.
“We knew what Oldham would produce and in these conditions, with their pack, they are probably the best-equipped team in the competition.”
Haven suffered a blow overnight when Karl Olstrom, Lewis Brown and on-loan Matty While went down with illness, resulting in them having only three subs.
Jessie Joe Parker was another absentee, due to a visa snag, but the Cumbrians could still feel a strong side which included Levy Nzoungou, the young French prop on loan from Salford,.
His Red Devils team mate Ryan Lannon was at loose-forward in the Oldham side, dual reg, but there was no room for his fellow dual-reg man Derrell Olpherts, who was named in the Oldham 19 on Friday.
The home side should have scored in the eighth minute when a left-flank raid by Roughyeds broke down. Home winger Dave Thompson hared off up the touchline and looked a certain scorer, but Lanning covered across field superbly to take him hard and low.
Dave Eccleston went with him and was penalised and sin-binned for holding down Thompson after the tackle with the Roughyeds defence in disarray.
The visitors then had a lot of defensive work to do before breaking back into Haven territory with a Langtree, Hewitt, Wilkinson link-up which led to the only try of the game.
This time Langtree again made the initial bust, Crook got with him and made vital inroads with a cute dummy and the supporting Adam Neal was on hand to put Wilkinson over. Crook added the goal.
Nzoungou had only been on the field a few minutes when he went high on Crook, who put the ball wide from the resulting kick.
It remained 0-6 at half-time, but Haven were penalised heavily after the break and Crook took advantage to land four match-clinching penalties, the last three of them in quick succession between minute 62 and minute 69.
Central to it all was Nzoungou. He wasn’t given any room to move by the Oldham forwards and as his frustration visibly grew, he reacted strongly to a two-man tackle and was promptly penalised as the home crowd started to ramp up the vocals.
Even in that they met their match, Roughyeds supporters chanting and singing with gusto behind the posts to silence the home crowd and to spur on their favourites in two shades of green to even greater efforts.
At the next Oldham drive for the posts, the young Frenchman was again hauled out by the match official for a high tackle.
As Haven’s frustrations went from bad to worse, Crook’s penalties took Naylor’s hungry-looking bunch out to 10-0, then 12-0, then 14-0 when Dave Hewitt was clattered late after putting the ball to touch.
A team warning followed and when Dion Aiye was then ruled to have again hung around too long in the ruck he was promptly sent to the sin bin.
A high shot on Dave Eccleston gave Roughyeds their eighth second-half penalty in a row, but this time — and with Haven down to 12 men — they elected to put the ball into touch and g again.
WHITEHAVEN: Burns; Thompson, Holliday, Taylor, Mossop; Billsborough, Phillips; Shackley, Abram, Coward, Gillam, Reece, Forster. Subs:Tilley, Aiye, Nzoungou.
OLDHAM: Nield; Eccleston, Holmes, Reid, Johnson; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Wilkinson, Neal, Bridge, Langtree, Lannon. Suns: Nelmes, Hughes, Spencer, Jones.
Referee: Brandon Robinson; Att: 785.