WHITLEY Warriors were beaten by English opposition for the first time this season – and since mid-January 2010 – when they lost the opening leg of their English National League Play-Off semi-final in Blackburn.
In a fast and furious opening session it was the home side who made the break through in the 15th minute when Aaron Davies guided the puck home.
Whitley did draw themselves level with a typical Callum Watson strike at 21.23, but they were then hit by a double salvo from the fire up Hawks.
Rick Ravey restored the Blackburn lead in the 27th minute and just a couple of minutes later Gary Dixon added a powerplay goal for the home side after Whitley conceded their first penalty of the night.
With defenders Daniel Harris, Andrew Cook and Ally Brummitt all missing the game, it left the Warriors a little short at the back, but that did not stop Ritchie Thornton from giving them a life line when he bulleted the puck home with a little under four minutes remaining.
However, the visitors were forced to play the last three minutes short-handed after the sending off of Andrew Thornton – one of the only four defenders in the squad – for high sticks and with Callum Watson also on a minor penalty, Blackburn were able to capitalise on the two man advantage with another goal from Aaron Davies soon after.
We certainly didn’t play as well as I would have liked,” admitted coach Simon Leach afterwards.
“But they wanted it more and deserved their win on the night.
“I guess we had to lose eventually,” he added, “because if you had told me at the beginning of the season that we wouldn’t lose in the ENL until April, I would have laughed at you.
“We were down on a few defenders tonight with Dan Harris missing through injury and Ally Brummitt unavailable because of work commitments; while Andrew Cook was on international duty with the England Under 19 squad.”
Despite the defeat, Leach is looking forward to the second leg at Hillheads on Sunday, April 10 and backs his side to overcome the two goal deficit.
“It’s not ideal being a couple of goals down and that certainly gives us a bigger challenge than we wanted, but we have the talent to come back,” he said.
“However, we have to perform better than we did tonight, because Blackburn appear to be up for this tie and will be ready to come and play I would imagine.”
All the missing defenders should return to the squad, although Andrew Thornton will now be suspended, while Ryan Sample should also be available.
“I will certainly have a bigger squad at my disposal this weekend,” said Leach, “although we may have the shuffle the lines around to make sure we get the right players playing together.
“We are in an all-or-nothing situation now, so there will be no point in sitting back; we have to go at Blackburn from the start and set about clawing back those two goals as quickly as possible.”
Sunday’s game gets underway at 5pm and tickets (adults £7, under 16s and concessions £5, family £19) will be available on the door.