Warriors end year with a stirring comeback against Sheffield Spartans

Rob Wilson. Picture by Colin Edwards
Rob Wilson. Picture by Colin Edwards

Whitley Warriors fought back from 6-3 down to earn a point away to Sheffield Spartan on Saturday.

They had a strong roster of players available for the NIHL North Moralee Conference contest at Ice Sheffield for the club’s last game in 2013.

Warriors senior netminder Richie Lawson was back in goal after missing out on selection the previous weekend.

In defence they rotated five ‘d’ men while offensively opted to go with three forward lines with teenager winger Ben Richards lining up alongside Karl Culley and Adam Reynolds on the principal forward unit.

Spartans started the game positively and the home side had the lead after just over a minute of play when Jonathon Kirk fired in from fractionally inside the blue line.

Warriors were creating plenty of chances themselves, though, and Reynolds tied the game up after five minutes with a powerful strike from distance that just had too much power for Stones in the Sheffield goal.

Both sides continued to create openings early in the game and Spartans re-took the lead after eight minutes when Will Barron got the better of netminder Lawson.

But once again Whitley were not behind for long as Reynolds equalised around six minutes later with Culley picking up the assist.

Towards the end of the first period Warriors winger Callum Watson was given two minutes in the penalty box for holding the stick of his opponent.

Sheffield made the most of their man advantage as Dougie Jordan fired home under a minute after the infringement which saw Spartans hold a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes of hockey.

Sheffield extended their lead five minutes into the second period of play when Tom Humphries netted after some neat build up play from team-mates Will Barron and Sam Jones.

Spartans continued to create openings, however, it was Whitley who grabbed the game’s next goal when Martin Crammond fired home after receiving the puck from line-mate Daniel Murdy.

Just before the end of the second period Rob Wilson was given a two-minute penalty by referee Hamilton for interference, and once again Spartans made the most of their powerplay opportunity as defenceman Kirk netted, which saw Warriors 5-3 down with one period remaining.

Spartans started the final session on the front foot as Stuart Brittle increased their lead to 6-3 when he fired past Lawson just 31 seconds in.

Whitley opted to change their lines around a little in an effort to increase their production offensively and this alteration worked as despite being short handed Warriors quickly got a goal back when Adam Reynolds netted his third of the game after being set up by Callum Watson.

Warriors’ reshuffled lines were looking dangerous and they were able to pull another goal back on 50 minutes when Rob Wilson fired home a powerplay marker against the depleted Spartans.

With just over two minutes left in the match, Sheffield’s Alex Harding was given a 2+10 minute penalty for checking to the head with saw Whitley get a late powerplay opportunity.

Whitley coach Simon Leach quickly called a time out and outlined the tactics he wanted his side to use, and he would have been delighted to see Karl Culley fire home 27 seconds later after some neat build up play from skipper DJ Good and Adam Reynolds.

Following Warriors’ equalising goal, Sheffield themselves called a time out to re-group, however there was no further scoring and each side picked up a point for their efforts in an end to end game of hockey.

Warriors’ man of the match award went to Wilson while youngster Sam Jones chosen as the home side’s best player on the night.

Whitley coach Simon Leach said: “It wasn’t our best performance, at times in the game we struggled a bit, our passing wasn’t what it could be, but on the plus side we stuck at it changed the lines around a bit and that worked out well for us.

“We worked hard out there to get back into the game and get a point, but I don’t think we should have been in the position we found ourselves in.

“As a group we have to be prepared to play for a full 60 minutes as the league is so tight at the minute that every game is vitally important.”

Whitley are in next in action during the first weekend in January when they travel to Blackburn to take on the Hawks on Saturday, January 4, before returning to Hillheads to take on Solway Sharks on Sunday, January 5.

Fans are reminded that Warriors are also holding a Legends Night on December 27 at 42nd Street in Whitley Bay where fans will be able to put questions to the likes of Terry Matthews, Paul Mathews, Alfie Miller, Martin King, Dave Ross and John Iredale.

Whitley coach Leach will host the event and there will also be a buffet for all those in attendance.

Tickets are available from Warriors’ Supporters Club and also on the night of the event.