Batley Bulldogs 23 Bradford Bulls 16

THE Bulls’ search for a cure for their travel sickness goes on as another nail was put in the coffin containing their Championship survival hopes.

Their only success on the road remains their victory over this coming weekend’s opponents Swinton way back in February after Matt Diskin’s men earned revenge for a 44-22 defeat at Odsal.

Having now lost 12 out of their last 13 games, clearly it is not just their away form that has kept Bulls cast adrift at the bottom of the table.

This loss left them 11 points adrift of the third-from-bottom spot – occupied by Oldham - which they somehow need to reach if they are to pull off a miraculous escape with only eight games left.

But having won five at home – including that win over Batley back in March – if Bulls had picked up a few wins away from Odsal, their task might not have looked quite the virtual Mission Impossible it looks now.

There were positives for the Bulls to take from this defeat – namely that they kept going until the final hooter and were still in the match until Patch Walker’s drop goal made it 23-16 with a minute to go.

It even looked like they might pull off an unlikely victory up the slope when Jonny Campbell came close to capping an impressive display with a try while the sides were level at 16-16.

But in the end was a familiar tale of more experienced and physical opponents having more nous to claim the spoils.

With Ethan Ryan and Ashley Gibson out for the season, hopes that Bulls might be given a boost by the arrival of Willie Tonga were dashed by another wait for a visa.

But new recruit Damian Sironen did inject some much-needed go-forward in what was an attritional first half, with both sides scoring just a try apiece.

Bulls got off to the perfect start when Joe Keyes capitalised on a dropped Dave Scott pass by Sam Smeaton to run 70 metres and post the opening score.

Oscar Thomas was unable to add the extras though from a kickable position and Batley soon got a foothold in the game.

It was to prove an afternoon to forget for Thomas. After 15 minutes, he was caught with the ball in hand and pushed into touch in the lefthand corner just over ten metres out.

Bulldogs took advantage as Alex Bretherton went over in the following move. Consolation for Bradford was a horrible conversion effort from Patch Walker, which struck the bar of the posts.

With James Brown to the fore, the Batley pack were stamping their authority in the forwards battle.

In a half of few clear-cut chances, Bulls might have opted to take two points when Mikolaj Oledski was caught high in front of the posts.

Instead they opted to go for the try but Cory Aston couldn’t grasp an off-load from Sironen.

Bulls had plenty of possession as Alex Rowe was put on report for a late challenge on Aston. But as was the case throughout the half, they lacked the invention to get behind the Batley line and force a try.

James Bentley claimed he had touched down when Wayne Reittie spilled a high ball in his own goal area but the officials awarded an offside decision to the hosts.

Turning round at 4-4, with the hosts now playing down the Mount Pleasant slope, meant you had to favour Bulldogs in the second half.

But eight minutes after the break, Bulls regained the lead in unusual fashion. Bentley put a high kick into the Batley red zone which Dave Scott failed to deal with and Campbell followed up to palm the ball back for Ed Chamberlain to touch down.

Thomas kicked the conversion but sloppy play from the full back then let Batley off the hook when he kicked behind their in-goal area on the full, giving Bulldogs a 20-metre restart.

Soon afterwards, Batley were in for the first of two quick tries as former Bradford player Dom Brambani set up Walker to cross the whitewash. Then Dave Scott went over after Joel Farrell had gone close.

Now behind, the signs looked ominous for Bulls but to their credit they hit back with the try of the game. The ball went through several pairs of hands before finding Campbell on the left wing and he showed great feet to beat his man and slot Macani in to score.

Thomas added the extras to level again and the game was up for grabs.

Bulls were now showing some penetration compared to their first-half attacks which were far too lateral.

Campbell went close with another threatening run as the Bulls fans massed behind the posts – once again providing the hosts with a bigger attendance than usual – sensed a possible victory.

But there was a sting in the tail. The impressive Brown offloaded to Shaun Ainscough inside his own half and the former Bull charged down field and went past a static Thomas before setting up Scott for the simple task of touching down.

Brambani kicked the conversion and then added the late drop goal to rubber stamp Batley’s win which kept them on track for a sixth-place finish before the Bottom Eights.

Defeat is not an option next week when Bulls aim to complete a league double over Swinton Lions at Odsal.

But their fate is increasingly looking like it already sealed as League One beckons.