WHITLEY Warriors surrended a two-year unbeaten English National League home run when league leaders Billingham Stars scored two unanswered third period goals to snatch the points last Sunday.
The start of the game was delayed by 20 minutes to allow the 1,000-plus crowd to witness the start and right from the off both sides were determined to make their mark.
However, it was the Warriors who made the early running and pinned the league leaders in their own half for much of the first three minutes, until they took a string of penalties to disrupt their rhythm.
Even then Whitley looked dangerous when they broke, but coped well with being two players down for more than a couple of minutes and once parity was restored, it came as no surprise when the home side took the lead.
Youngster Harry Harley fed Callum Watson and the Warriors leading scorer made no mistake from close range to net on seven minutes.
But, as was to be a feature of the opening period, it did not take Billingham long to equalise; Anthony Price netting from an acute angle at 13.09.
Once again Whitley took the lead soon after as Dean Holland fired the puck past James Flavell in the Billingham goal, but this time the visitors were level just 20 seconds later as Simon Hehir deflected the puck past Richie Lawson.
The Warriors took the lead for a third time at 16.22 as DJ Good somehow managed to squeeze the puck between the post and pad of his former team-mate Flavell, yet that failure to hold on to the lead saw Jamie Pattison strike from distance within the minute; and that would prove crucial as the game progressed.
By total contrast neither side was able to find the back of the net in the middle session as netminders Lawson and Flavell produced the kind of form that has seen them rated as the best two in the league; and that left all to play for with 20 minutes remaining.
It was always going to be one of those games where a stroke of luck changed things and unfortunately for the Warriors that came at 41.09 when Scott Ward re-acted quickest to a loose puck and was able to push it over the line to put Billingham ahead for the first time.
That forced Whitley onto the offensive and although they again pinned the league leaders in their own half for long spells, an equaliser would not come, and it was inevitably the visitors who got the next goal with a little over eight minutes left on the clock as Pattison netted his second to seal the win.
“We were pretty upset in the dressing room afterwards, because we thought we could get the win tonight,” said Whitley assistant captain Shaun Kippin afterwards.
“The first session was a bit of a goal fest, which wasn’t something anyone would have imagined, but I think both sides were a little nervous at the start, especially with such a big crowd in to watch, and it took everyone a little time to settle down.”
With injuries again restricting the size of the Whitley bench, Kippin admitted his side were feeling the pace a little by the third period.
“Once again we have been unable to put out a full team against them and when the opposition are coming at you with four lines all night, you really do need everyone available,” he continued.
“And we didn’t feel the little bounces or decision went our way, but that’s sometimes the way things go in a game and you just have to get on with it.
“On another night, everything could have gone for us and the result may have been much different.”
Callum Watson, Dean Holland and DJ Good had all scored to put Whitley ahead during the first period, but each time Billingham were able to equalise quickly to kill any moment the Warriors might have.
Whitley are now not in action again until January 8 when they travel to Manchester to take on Trafford Metros, with the next game at Hillheads seven days later as Solihull Barons make their first visit for more than ten years.