AFTER Trafford Metros beat league leaders Billingham Stars 4-2 on Saturday, Whitley Warriors knew they had to get the two points against the same opposition if they wanted to close the gap on the Teesside outfit at the top of the English National League North on Sunday.
And they made a great start to the night, pinning the Manchester-based opposition in their own half for most of the opening five minutes.
However, that spell of dominance produced no goals with the closest the home side came being a Dean Holland shot that pinged off the post with netminder Paul Maudsley well beaten and a breakaway from Callum Watson that the Trafford keeper did well to push away.
And, it was the visitors who went on to silence the crowd as they opened the scoring when Tom Revesz was able to get the better of Whitley netminder Ritchie Lawson at 5.04.
But despite that setback the home outfit continued to push forward and the equalising goal came five minutes later when DJ good was able to turn the defender before unleashing a shot that had goal written all over it from the moment the puck left his stick.
Whitley ended the first period – and started the second – on the powerplay.
But almost as soon as they were back to full strength Trafford regained the lead courtesy of a scrambled effort from Jamie Rogerson.
The game quickly settled into the same pattern as the first session and it was the home side who launched a series of attacks as they searched for an equaliser.
The vital goal coming at 32.31 when DJ Good slid the puck across for Jamie Tinsley to smash it into the back of the net.
And once level the Warriors were quickly on the hunt for more goals, determined not to let the visitors take the lead for a third time.
Tinsley again provided the finishing touch as his shot went under the legs of Maudsley for a goal at 37.43, and just 20 seconds later the home players were celebrating again.
The Trafford keeper could not hold a stinging shot from Dean Holland and when it fell to Shaun Kippin, the assistant captain quickly despatched the puck into an empty net to make the score 4-2.
However, credit to the Metros because from the face-off they went straight down the Whitley end and pulled one back through leading scorer Jake Nurse.
Unfortunately for the goalscorer he was injured in the process and took no further part in the game.
Although neither side scored in the final period that did not stop it from being an absorbing contest and the Whitley defence had to be at their best on several occasions.
At the other end, netminder Paul Maudsley was a very busy player for the visiting Trafford Metros.
Although the victory improved the Warriors’ hopes of landing a third consecutive English National League title, Billingham still has a three point advantage at the top.
And the Teessiders still have to visit Hillheads once more, so know they cannot afford any more slip-ups.
“They are still the favourites for the title,” admitted Whitley coach Garry Dowd afterwards.
“But all the pressure is on them now and they have some tricky games coming up against in-form sides before the end of the regular season.
“But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we didn’t manage to pip them at the end.
“After breaking up our title winning team, this is a young side that has its best years ahead of it and I believe we can only get stronger; and the experience we are gaining this season is invaluable.”
The Warriors were made to work hard for their win against a side that is vastly superior to the Trafford Metros that only just escaped relegation last season.
“They have made great strides this season and showed they are difficult opposition to beat, as Billingham found the previous night and we did on our last visit to their rink,” said Dowd.
“We dominated the opening exchanges and then found ourselves behind, and even when we equalised they were able to score a scrappy goal to get back in front, but I was never worried that we wouldn’t eventually find a way through.
“We had plenty more possession than them, we had more shots on goal than them and it was just a matter of time before we turned that into something tangible on the score board.”
However, it was also the quality of some of the Warriors play that impressed the coach most, and he thinks the best of his side is yet to come this season.
“We are working the puck around the ice so well at times and scoring some good open play goals,” he said.
“But this is a side that is evolving all of the time and with every week we are becoming a stronger unit.
“And with most of my injured players due back over the next couple of weeks, I will soon have some very interesting decisions to make as a coach.”
Whitley make the short journey to Billingham on Saturday for a Northern Cup game, but with Solway Sharks already confirmed as the winners, Dowd expects to make some changes to his side.
“Bryan Dunn is back now and even though he didn’t get on the ice against Trafford, he will against Billingham,” confirmed the coach.
“And we will have Phil Pritchard back in the side for that game, giving us more options at the back.
“It may be a dead game in terms of the competition, but it will be an important match for the likes of Bryan and Phil as they attempt to get some fitness ahead of a busy run-in to the end of the season.”
Whitley are next at home on February 15 when relegation threatened Solihull Barons are the visitors to Hillheads.