AFTER a narrow defeat at Doncaster (26-22), Oldham are hanging on to a play-off spot in Betfred League 1 by the skin of their teeth or, to be more precise, by their superior for-and-against difference.
They’ve dropped from third to fifth on 24 points — level with Doncaster and Hunslet but higher in the placings thanks to a scoring and defending difference that’s worth an extra point.
Workington and Whitehaven have gone above them and after their third away defeat in a row — and none by more than seven points — Roughyeds are caught up in a qualification nail-biter that’s going to go down to the wire.
Assuming Bradford or York will fill one of the four spots it leaves the other three to be hotly contested by Workington, Whitehaven, Oldham, Doncaster and Hunslet, all split by only two points.
With seven rounds to go every game will have the intensity of a cup final and this hard-fought, all-action gladiatorial encounter was no exception.
It was a real bruiser — an arm-wrestle until early in the second half when Doncaster responded the stronger to the sin-binning of Danny Langtree and Jordie Hedges.
Hedges didn’t like Langtree’s tackle in which the ball ran loose and Oldham were awarded head and feed.
In what was to prove a pivotal moment, with the home side leading 8-6, the two players squared up.
Out came the yellow card for both of them, but worse still the penalty went to Doncaster and in the very next set Jordan Howden’s chip into the in-goal was pounced on by man-of-the-match Brad England for the home side’s second try.
In the next 20 minutes Oldham looked shell-shocked whereas The Dons soared in confidence and stature to score further unanswered tries by Aaron Jones-Bishop and on-loan centre Jack Logan.
Young Oldham full-back Luke Hooley was subjected to some thundering big hits, especially after he was hurt in one such tackle but carried on bravely after treatment.
Shortly afterwards Jez Litten’s harmless-looking speculative kick downfield caught Hooley out when winger Jones-Bishop flew in to score as the Oldham full-back appeared to be thinking the ball was running dead.
Another soft try was conceded when a Paul Crook grubber at the Doncaster end ricocheted straight into the hands of Logan who broke away and covered nearly the full length of the pitch to give Richard Horne’s men what everybody in the ground thought would be an unassailable 26-6 lead.
Oldham kept battling, however, and they visibly soared in self-belief when talisman Langtree crossed on Gareth Owen’s pass with 11 minutes still to go.
Hooley added the angled goal — 12-26 — and then Dave Hewitt’s high cross-kick to the corner was plucked out of the air by Matt Reid. Hewitt goaled off the touchline this time: 18-26.
Playing at half-back, and with time running out fast and nothing to lose, Owen kicked over the home side’s defensive wall.
The Dons fumbled, Owen retrieved possession and fed Zack McComb, who put Dave Eccleston in to make it 22-26.
Hooley’s goal attempt passed narrowly wide and with only four minutes left The Dons held on to record their third win in a row.
Doncaster — goals, Beharrell 5/6; tries, Doherty, England, Jones-Bishop, Logan.
Oldham — goals, Crook 3/3, Hooley 1/2, Hewitt 1/1; tries, Langtree, Reid, Eccleston.
Doncaster: Miloudi (DR); Doherty, Logan, Tali, Jones-Bishop; Howden, Beharrell; Scott, Kesik, Boyle, England, Mariano, Downs (DR); subs: Osborne (DR), Martin, Hedges, Litten (DR).
Oldham: Hooley; Eccleston, McComb, Reid, Kershaw; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Spencer, Briscoe, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Wilkinson, Nelmes, Davies, Rasool.
Ref: Andy Sweet Att: 647.