WHITLEY Warriors lost a narrow local derby 3-2 at Billingham Stars on Sunday evening.
Warriors were without both senior goaltenders so rookie Joe Harley was in nets. And Josh Maddock and Philip Pritchard were both back in action after spells out of the side through injury.
Billingham started strongly and took the lead with only four minutes on the clock when blue liner Andy Finn fired past Harley in the Whitley goal.
Stars extended their lead midway through the opening period when ex-Newcastle Viper Stephen Wallace netted after some nice work from Australian import Dave Manning and Michael Bowman.
Shortly into the second session Whitley were given a powerplay opportunity when Finn was penalised for tripping.
Warriors made their man advantage count as Martin Crammond netted Whitley’s opening goal of the game after exactly 26 minutes of action.
Whitley were playing some great hockey and Warriors levelled around a minute later when speedy winger Callum Watson found the back of the net following precise build up play from line-mates Jordan Barnes and Tommy Ralph.
After 33 minutes Warriors’ Callum Pattison and Stars’ Dave Thomas dropped the gloves. Pattison got the better of the exchange as the Billingham defenceman left the ice with a bloodied face as both players picked up four minutes of penalties for roughing.
Both sides continued to create opportunities, however the second period ended all square at 2-2 as both netminders were in fine form.
Warriors ran into some penalty trouble in the third period as they picked up four minor penalties in a 13-minute spell.
Whitley managed to contain Billingham’s powerplay unit for long spells, however, Stars finally made their man advantage count when former Warriors forward Karl Culley fired home with less than five minutes of the game remaining.
Culley did not celebrate the goal as a show of respect to his former side.
Whitley threw everything they had at Billingham during the closing stages but they were unable to find that elusive game tying goal despite impressive offensive play from Jamie Tinsley, DJ Good and Watson.
Whitley’s young netminder Harley was deservedly selected as Warriors man of the match as he made a number of smart stops throughout the contest.
Warriors skipper DJ Good said: “It was a good game and we have made some real improvements of late. The game could have gone either way.
“We have a lot of positives to take from the game and we were like the old Warriors, battling and playing with heart to try and get the win.
“Joe (Harley) was outstanding and really upped his game when we needed it.”
Whitley are in action twice this weekend as they face the Trafford Metros in the north west on Saturday evening before taking on the Blackburn Hawks at home on Sunday night (5pm face-off).
Warriors are currently just a point above the relegation place in NIHL North division one, so the coming weekend’s two games will be crucial as Whitley look to pull away from relegation and the foot of the standings.