WHITLEY Warriors’ hopes of landing the North Cup hang by a thread after a home defeat by Blackburn Hawks, with the home side being unable to score until the closing stages.
Despite an even start to the game, it was Blackburn who made the most of their opportunities to lead 2-0 at the first interval, although there was more than a stroke of fortune about the opening goal.
Matt Viney took the credit with an eighth minute strike, but the puck took a deflection and looped over Whitley netminder David Lawrence, despite his efforts to make the save.
However, there was no doubt about the second as Jordan Bannon found the net at 15.05 with a precision shot from an acute angle to score while the visitors had the man advantage.
Despite Whitley having the majority of the play in the middle session, Matt Viney scored his second goal of the night on 34 minutes to give the visitors what would prove to be a match winning lead.
Throughout the game the Hawks were indebted to netminder Daniel Brittle – who often seems to excel at Hillheads – for a series of fine saves and it was not until the last seven minutes that the Warriors were finally able to beat him with two goals in the space of 90 seconds to set up a pulsating finale.
Callum Watson managed to tip in a shot from Shaun Kippin to open their account at 53.09, with Martin Crammond reducing the arrears further soon after
Even though they had plenty of home pressure in the closing stages, there was to be no late equalising goal for Whitley, but afterwards assistant coach Kevin Bucas was not downhearted by his side’s display.
“We certainly didn’t play as badly as the scoreboard showed after two periods,” he said, “and I didn’t think we got too much of a run of the puck either.
“I thought we dominated for much of the middle session and got nothing to show for it, but finally got something for our effort in the final 20 minutes; even if in the end we couldn’t quite pull the game round.”
And after a summer of change at Hillheads, with a new coach and a much younger squad for him to work with, Bucas feels they are still finding their feet a little.
“Garry (Dowd) has changed our philosophy a little and we are using all the players; and when things get tough we are not cutting the bench,” the assistant coach continued.
“We still have a lot to learn, but hopefully its decisions like that which will mean that when we come to the tough games towards the end of the season, we will be stronger for making them now.”
Christian Johnson made his first appearance of the season in the game, while Harry Harley played for the Warriors for the first time and it was the two youngsters that Bucas thought started their comeback.
“They both did an excellent job,” he admitted, “and it was on the back of what they were doing that kick-started the rest of the side into action.
“But they are just two of some excellent young players we have coming through the system at Whitley and I’m sure the fans will see more youngsters get a chance as the season progresses.”
This weekend the Warriors return to English National League action with a game in Coventry on Saturday, before hosting Nottingham Lions at Hillheads 24 hours later; the game gets underway at 5pm and the doors open 30 minutes before face-off.