WHITLEY Warriors faced Trafford at Hillheads for the second time in a month and knew it would be a tough 60 minutes after just edging a seven-goal thriller in the previous fixture.
The visitors were assessed a tripping penalty just four seconds into the game and Whitley were not about to let such an opportunity pass, so it came as little surprise when Callum Watson finished off a good home move to score on the powerplay at 1.24.
However, that would be the only goal of a frustrating first 20 minutes for the home side, as they were unable to find a further way past Trafford netminder Tom McDonald.
The second period started in the same fashion – and Whitley were guilty of missing several one-on-one opportunities against McDonald – but even he was powerless to prevent Dean Holland from scoring the Warriors second goal in the 31st minute, after the former Newcastle Vipers forward was set free by recent GB Under-18 selection Harry Harley.
The Warriors had played off ten minutes of penalties in the first period – including a spell when they were two men down – but the first trip to the penalty box in the middle session proved to be less successful as Jamie Rogerson opened the Trafford account at 33.13.
With all to play for at the start of the final session, Whitley began with an extra man and extended their lead after just 27 seconds when Holland netted his second of the game.
That goal seemed to deflate the visitors and the Warriors quickly took advantage to score two more inside the opening five minutes.
Rob Wilson’s goal-bound shot was well saved by the Trafford keeper, but Harley was quick to react and netted the rebound at 43.32; and 90 seconds later it was game over for the visitors when Jordan Barnes made it 5-1.
The Metros did manage to pull one back three minutes from time when Sean Day scored their second powerplay goal of the night, but it was too late to make a real difference to the score-line.
The win assured Whitley of a top four finish in the English National League – and a place in the play-offs – but afterwards player/coach Garry Dowd was more focused on his side’s quest to win the league title for the third season in succession.
“When I took over in the summer, we didn’t even know what sort of team we would be able to put out after losing so many players from the side that won the league and play-off double for the past two years,” he said.
“But here we are just two points behind the league leaders with five games remaining and they visit our rink next Sunday.
“The whole squad have been magnificent and we have just got better as the campaign has progressed.
“Plenty can still happen before the regular season ends; but to get to where we are now says a lot about the character of the side.”
However, Dowd is well aware of the danger of focusing on the Billingham game, when there are four other equally important games to play.
“Sheffield away on Saturday will be another huge test for us,” the coach continued, “but we have to show the same qualities that got us through against Trafford tonight, because we were able to step up when it mattered.
“It was a hard fought win, but we came through at the right time.
“Trafford are a good side and have taken points off all the top teams this season, so to beat them twice in our building means that is four good points we have got against them.
“But it was important we won ahead of two tough games next weekend to keep that momentum going and we can now head off to Sheffield with confidence, knowing we are still very much in the title race.”
A large crowd is expected at Hillheads for the Billingham game on Sunday, possibly exceeding the 1,000-plus people that attended the previous fixture between the sides the week before Christmas.
Tickets are available on the night, priced at adults £7.50, under 16s and concessions £5.50, while a family ticket is £22.
The action starts at 5pm, with the doors opening 45 minutes before face-off.