THE footsteps behind Gateshead Thunder are beginning to grow louder ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Oxford.
Having finished bottom of the Kingstone Press Championship One table for the past three seasons, their home victory over a struggling Gloucester side looked to have turned the tide for head coach Kevin Neighbour and his much-changed squad.
Since then, however, seven games have been and gone without a second victory. Gloucester’s own slump during their maiden season in the third tier of English rugby league was the only thing keeping them off the bottom spot, but now the fledgling side are beginning to find their wings.
Winning their last two games, the expansion outfit are now tied on seven points with Gateshead and looking every inch like overtaking them.
A porous Gateshead defence is hardly helping matters – their last four games seeing them ship an average of more than 48 points.
In a week where the game’s top division has taken the decision to re-introduce promotion and relegation, the fortunate fact for Thunder is that the tentacles of demotion do not extend as deeply as their division. Not yet, anyway.
To remove that possibility from their list of worries the simplest solution is to win some games – easier said than done when their last three seasons have produced only the same number of league victories.
Next on their list is Oxford, tomorrow’s visitors to their home ground in South Shields.
The 3pm kick-off at Filtrona Park sees Gateshead playing host to a side bobbing along in mid-table in only their first season in the division.
Their one and only previous meeting saw little between the two teams, Thunder beaten 27-22 in the city of dreaming spires.
And with few injuries to report, they at least have a full hand from which to pick.
Oxford coach Tony Benson was in reflective mood after seeing his side fall to successive defeats and said: “I thought it was a pretty good effort.
“Going into half-time (against Oldham) 12-4 down I thought we had a chance of coming back, but I wasn’t sure which players I would have back Dave Ellison had a broken cheek bone so we lost him and both Valu and Andrew Bentley were also struggling which left us with one sub left.
“In that heat it was always going to be a tough task.”