FIFE Flyers may have been crowned Northern League champions the previous night after beating Blackburn, but that did not stop either them or Whitley Warriors from playing Sunday’s Northern League game as if the title rested on it.
And for the second Sunday in succession it was the Warriors who came out on top.
The previous weekend Whitley had battered the Fife goal in the opening minutes only to find themselves fall behind, but this time it was the home side who took the lead and never looked like losing it all night.
With the home side a player down while Kevin Bucas sat out two minutes for high sticks, Whitley were defending superbly and caught Fife on the break with skipper Adam Reynolds racing clear of the last defender to deposit the puck into the back of the Flyers net.
And while the visitors were still coming to terms with that goal, it was Ryan Sample who extended the home lead just 90 seconds later.
The Warriors were fully deserving of that two goal advantage at the first break and when the sides came out for the second session, it was they who again dominated the play.
Another sweeping move by the home side carved open the league champions defence and Adam Reynolds made it three at 33.27.
Whitley were now in full control of the game and it was only a matter of time that their dominance was rewarded with a goal.
That came inside the last two minutes of the period when a howitzer of a shot from Ritchie Thornton was deflected into the goal by Ryan Sample as the Warriors made the extra player work to their advantage.
However, Thornton was to depart the action in the 45th minute when he was given a match penalty after he caught a Fife player in the face with his stick; that the visiting defender had just pulled down Thornton from behind – for which he received no penalty – seemed of little consequence to the referee.
Even though the Warriors played off that five minute penalty without conceding a goal, Fife ended their hopes of recording two shut-outs in the weekend, when Steven McAlpine was on target soon after.
And the Flyers did get further late consolation when Andy Samuel netted a powerplay goal for them on 59 minutes, but that only served to add a little more respectability to the score line than they probably deserved.
“The big thing for us tonight was to get the win out of the game as that means we have ended the regular season without losing at Hillheads,” said coach Simon Leach.
“That was the incentive and we’ve responded to that challenge with another good performance.
“But it was also massively important to us that we set a marker for a possible meeting with them in the Northern League play-off final next Sunday.
“Before then we have a huge game with Solway in the semi-final and certainly won’t be taking them lightly, but if we do both get through, Fife now
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know they have lost to us in the last two meetings and that may give us a psychological edge.”
The main talking point afterwards was that sending off of defender Ritchie Thornton and Leach had some sympathy for the referee.
“Obviously it was disappointing from our perspective,” he said, “and was probably a big contributory factor in Fife scoring two late goals, but as the rules stand he had very little choice to make his decision and we have to abide by that.
“That meant we had to drop Ryan Sample onto defence, because it would have been unfair on a young lad like Josh Maddock to throw him into a situation like that when he has sat on the bench all night.”
The Warriors had also been in English National League action on Saturday night when they travelled to Telford and came away with a 6-0 victory to take their remarkable record in that competition his season to 23 wins and two draws.
“It wasn’t one of our best performances of the campaign,” admitted Leach, “but we got the job done and James Flavell fully deserved his fourth shut-out in what is an outstanding season for him.”
Skipper Adam Reynolds netted a hat trick at Telford, the opening goal – as it would be against Fife – being scored while the Warriors were shorthanded; Kevin Bucas (powerplay), Paul Windridge and Callum Watson were the other scorers.
This weekend Whitley are in Kirkcaldy for the Northern League Play-off finals and meet defending champions Solway Sharks in the opening game.
Leach expects to have Andy Thornton and Ally Brummitt back in the squad, while Ritchie Thornton will have served his one match ban in the game with the Northern Stars on Tuesday night, as the Warriors look to win the trophy for the first time since beating Dundee Stars in the 2007 final.