For fuck’s sake, Wire. I actually did a bit of research ahead of this piece, unearthed a few famous St Helenians (that’s what they’re called, apparently) and had a ‘your boys took a hell of a beating’ intro ready and waiting to go again.
After a near-perfect performance last week against Leeds, Warrington typically followed it up with a piss-poor show at Shit Helens. It would’ve been just too much to expect to have smashed two undefeated starts to the season in a row, but expect it we did and it’s the expectation that sucks you in and ultimately hurts you.
In the grand scheme of things, defeat at the home of the reigning champions is no disgrace whatsoever and should only be considered a minor blimp in a long season, but we haven’t lost away to Saints since they left Know It All Road and last night had the feel of some of those agonising nights stood on the big Kop End behind the goal, watching our team get dicked and having to listen to endless gloating verses of Wanky Wanky Warrington in a frankly horrendous accent.
In the first half, Wire were huddled behind the sticks while a section of the Saints’ crowd at the side of the pitch broke into a chorus of ‘There’s only one Kevin Penny’, a painful throwback to that ridiculously hot, but ultimately miserable day in Eccleston in 2008.
Penny scored an absolute beauty of a try that day but made a howler in defence that lead to Saints pulling away.
Despite the huge progress we’ve made as a club in the seven years since that cup tie, this performance felt nauseatingly similar to that game in particular, with a couple of late tries giving us hope of a comeback, but ultimately we were a distant second best all game and we look a good distance away from where we aspire to be.
Some Wire fans were – not unusually – quick to scapegoat Penny for the tries that we shipped in down our right edge. That side in particular has been leaky all season, but the truth it that Penny was left woefully exposed on the wing and could do little or anything to stop most of the action that came down his way.
The warning signs were there early. Twice Adam Swift got on the outside of Penny, twice he was tackled into touch – once by Penny himself, the second time by Ratchford covering at full back – so it was no real surprise when Saints made field position count and Joe Greenwood burst through the line to open the scoring.
Wire had a couple of chances of our own before Saints scored, with Gaz O’Brien flinging a ball out wide to Atkins to make a break from of our own line early on and Westwood busting through and slipping a neat offload to Ratchford who in turn found Bridge, who typically ballsed it up and the ball was turned over.
Daryl Clark dived over from dummy half moments after Greenwood’s opener to level the scores, the try and ensuing melee lifting the travelling support to rampant levels. Sadly, scoreboard parity and Westwood laying the smack down on the ‘Tellins pack was about as good as it got for us.
Saints were back in the lead not long after when Jordan Turner kicked through, then hacked on again to allow Jon ‘Vanilla Latte’ Wilkin to touch down. He looked offside at the time, but Thaler typically didn’t feel the need to refer it to the video referee and just gave it anyway.
They extended their lead just before half-time, when Swift collected a long pass in acres of space. Kevin Penny was caught in the proverbial no man’s land and could only watch as the ball flew over his head. Blame the lad all you want, but if you think it’s all his fault, or his positioning is wrong, you’re totally ignoring two facts:
- The current default defensive system for most teams these days – and we’re no different – is to come up as a line and push inside. The days of the winger holding his position on the touchline are a thing of the past, across the board.
- Our inability to handle Roby’s darts from dummy half and his forwards running off him meant we were sucked into the centre of the field and hence constantly being exposed out wide all game, thus Penny was left on his own facing a three, sometimes four man overlap by the time Saints shifted the ball.
Saints, for their part, were well disciplined and set up with the same back line shot every time they spread the ball wide. Their pivots would line up almost directly behind each other, disguising their angle of run, before hitting the line behind a lead runner.
Wire, on the other hand, looked largely clueless in attack and most attempts to spread the ball wide were futile, with O’Brien and Bridge often reading the defensive line wrong and choosing the wrong pass.
A glimmer of hope was handed to us after the break when Higham scored from dummy half, but when Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook crashed over after another penalty had gifted Saints field position, it felt like game over.
That feeling was reinforced when Gareth O’Brien tried to drop Ben Westwood off, but the ball ended up on the floor and Saints broke away to allow Makinson to score in front of their delirious vocal ‘end’.
Wire scored twice before the end to tease the possibility of a comeback – Kev Penny touching down after a charge down was picked up by Atkins who fed the mercurial winger and then Chris Hill diving over from acting half after the most outrageous dummy you’ll ever fucking see!
Penny had actually had a try disallowed before Makinson scored, the video referee ruling that his foot was in touch as he tried to dive over in the corner, but it was too little, too late. There were fewer than three minutes left on the clock by the time of Hill’s Joey Johns impression and Saints did well to keep us pinned our own half from the restart and Travis Burns nudged over a penalty goal as the clock ticked down to seal the result.
Swing Low Sweet Fucking Chariot.
If we are looking for positives, we can point to the fact that we were woeful for much of the match and Saints were actually pretty good, but there was only 8 points difference at the end of the game.
But we simply cannot continue to rely on individual brilliance to get out of jail like we have so far this year. The fact that three of our tries came from dummy half and the other from a defensive ‘win’ highlights a total lack of creativity in the half backs.
We mentioned a couple of weeks ago the culture that Tony Smith is trying to create and the foundations for the future he seems to be laying at the club, persisting with home-grown talent in pivotal positions that will hopefully benefit from the exposure to first team football and become key members of the squad for years to come.
We will only see in the fruition of time whether this policy will pay off, but in the here and now, the frailties in the squad are there for all to see. We desperately need a half back who can read a game and can lead a team around the pitch. Stefan Ratchford is an immensely creative player and we reap the benefits of playing him at full back when he gets the ball in hand in good position.
But it counts for nothing if the ball doesn’t get out to him and we simply do not have a half back capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck. This needs addressing soon. We’ll comfortably make the play offs, but without a top class half back, we won’t be winning a trophy.
On a more sombre note, today (Friday) is the 22nd anniversary of the IRA bombing of Warrington town centre and the tragic loss of Jonathon Ball and Tim Parry.
We would simply like to pay our respects to the two boys who lost their lives that day and the courage, strength and eloquence their families have displayed ever since that fateful day in campaigning for a better, more peaceful world.
Sleep tight, lads. You’ll never be forgotten.