Warriors end season unbeaten after defeating Nottingham Lions

Shaun Kippin (left) opens Whitley Warriors' account agaainst Trafford. Picture by COLIN EDWARDS
Shaun Kippin (left) opens Whitley Warriors' account agaainst Trafford. Picture by COLIN EDWARDS

HAVING drawn 3-3 away to Trafford the previous night, Whitley Warriors went into their final league game of the season knowing they stood on the brink of a remarkable record.

The Hillheads-based side were looking to become the first team to go an English National League North season without defeat.

However, the night did not begin well and it was the Lions who were first to trouble the scorer as Will Weldon put them ahead with the only goal of the opening period.

And when Joe Wightman doubled their advantage in the 25th minute, Whitley’s hopes of that record did not look good.

But not for the first time this season, the players dug deep and in three minutes managed to turn the game on its head.

Skipper Adam Reynolds, who had missed the match against Trafford the night, before pulled one back for Whitley at 35.14 and just over a minute later Callum Watson had levelled the scores.

The visitors were on top now and at 38.14 it was former Nottingham Lions forward Adam Robinson that edged his new team in front.

However, the Warriors lost a player to the penalty box almost immediately after and were made to pay when Marcus Maynard scored from distance at 38.41 to level the game once more.

And incredibly the Lions were back in front just 23 seconds later as Nick Whyatt crashed the puck into the visitors net.

Whatever was said by coach Simon Leach in the dressing room during the second interval certainly worked as Whitley came out and dominated the final period, scoring the two goals they need to clinch their place in history.

The champions barely let the home side have a sniff at goal in the closing 20 minutes and were level again at 44.28 when Reynolds grabbed his second of the night.

There looked only one side capable of snatching a winner after that and that came at 55.41 when Callum Watson finished off good work from Shaun Kippin and DJ Good to ensure the record was achieved with a victory.

“It is an incredible achievement and I am very proud of them all,” said a jubilant Leach afterwards.

“I won many trophies in my career, but was never on a side that did what they have done and they can all hold their heads very high.

“We had some luck along the way, no side can get it right every night, but we’ve always stuck to our task and tonight’s game was a perfect example of that.

“Nottingham is always a tough place to go and play, and they were certainly determined to be the first side to defeat us.

“But even though we started slowly and then got back into the game, only to switch off for a couple of minutes, we came out and dominated the last period; and showed exactly why we can be so difficult to beat.”

After last week’s poor performance in the Northern League Play-Off final, Leach wanted his side to show their true character this weekend; and wasn’t disappointed.

“We proved to ourselves we are good side this weekend,” he said.

“We trailed in Trafford on the Saturday and got a result and then trailed again tonight and got a result.

“But that is the kind of spirit that we have shown all season long and made what happened last Sunday so much of a surprise.”

However, despite that 28-game unbeaten run in the ENL, Leach is now looking forward to his side adding more silverware before the season ends.

“We still have the play-offs to look forward to and those previous 28 games will count for nothing once they get underway.

“As yet we don’t know whether it will be Blackburn Hawks or Sheffield Spartans we face in the semi-final, but whichever side comes through, we know it will be a tough couple of games just to get to the final.”