Scott Naylor hoped Friday night’s game at Keighley would show that Oldham’s season was back on track.
It did — the wrong track !
A 15-8 defeat by a side whose club had just emerged from a dark tunnel of adversity and uncertainty was a bitter blow for Roughyeds fans and one that left the whole club feeling flat.
It wasn’t that Keighley were any great shakes. Technically, they were very ordinary indeed.
Where they scored was in their insatiable appetite for hard work; their fighting spirit; their wonderful attitude; and their determination to kick-start their club’s new beginning with a victory against all the odds.
More importantly, their tactics were spot-on — to take every point on offer; to go for two every time they got a penalty within shooting distance; and to match Oldham’s well-known physicality and defensive strategy.
Said coach Craig Lingard:
“We noticed that Oldham don’t generally score a lot of points. They have won a few with close scores and lost a few with close scores.
“If we were going to win we knew we wouldn’t run away with it. It would be close. So we decided to take every point offered to us. There was once in the first half when we ignored a goal chance and I was really disappointed at that.
“The plan was to stay in the arm wrestle for as long as we could because as long as we were in it we would have a chance.”
Benn Hardcastle dropped a goal as early as the 35th minute to underline Lingard’s strategy.
Oldham opened the scoring in the 14th minute when Luke Hooley linked with Lee Kershaw and took the winger’s return pass to go over. Crook landed the goal from wide out.
The Roughyeds’ third unforced error in the first 20 minutes led directly to the equalising try and goal when Mike Emmett crashed over from close range on a flat pass from dummy half.
Oldham’s errors continued and they were again made to pay when Hardcastle’s one-pointer pushed Cougars into a 7-6 lead.
The visitors looked most dangerous down their left side when Hooley linked up to get Danny Bridge on the move, but a good chance was thrown away when Zack McComb lost the ball as he headed for the line.
Seconds before the half-time hooter Cougars were penalised for interference at the ruck and, from inside Oldham’s half, Crook landed a great goal to give Roughyeds an 8-7 interval lead.
Oldham’s errors continued on the resumption, however. McComb knocked-on; Roughyeds were not square at the ruck and Hardcastle goaled for a 9-8 lead.
Worse was to follow when Hooley’s restart kick sailed dead. From the penalty Cougars applied more pressure; got another penalty and Hardcastle did the rest.
He was to kick four second-half penalties while Oldham failed to score in the second half.
They were hampered by a shortage of creativity and by Keighley’s tough defence.
In a niggly contest two incidents were placed on report and both Adam Jones and Brendon Rawlins were sent to the sin-bin after a flare-up in the 55th minute.
At 11-8 down, Oldham looked to be going over for a crucial try, but Crook’s pass to the charging Spencer was ruled forward.
It was clearly one of those days for Oldham, who conceded two more penalties in the 60th and 75th minutes.
Scorers: Keighley — drop goal, Hardcastle; goals, Hardcastle 5/5; try, Emmett; Oldham: goals, Crook 2/2; try, Hooley.
KEIGHLEY: Aaronsen; Dixon, Leeming, Barnes, Gabriel; Bowman, Hardcastle; Hallas, Cullimore, Bailey. Rawlins, Griffin, Emmett. Subs: Law, Conroy, Kenga, Moran.
OLDHAM: Hooley; West, Holmes, McComb, Kershaw; Crook, Hewitt; Spencer, Owen, Joy, Briscoe, Bridge, Bent. Subs: Cunningham, Davies, Jones, Nelmes.
Ref: C Worley; Att: 510