WHITLEY Warriors began their quest for a third consecutive English National League title with a 6-2 home win over Sheffield Spartans – the last club other than Whitley to win the league.
And Callum Watson continued his bright start to the season with a hat-trick.
It took the home side until the 14th minute to open their account – although they could have been ahead sooner if not for some brilliant saves from Sheffield keeper Mark Hartley – with Watson turning to shoot the puck beyond the netminder.
Jamie Tinsley then added his second in as many games before the first break to give Warriors the kind of lead their superiority deserved.
But they were rocked early in the middle session when Shaun Wild pulled one back for Spartans.
However, after playing off a 90-second spell of having two players in the penalty box, Whitley extended their lead at 26.04 when skipper Rob Wilson set up Watson.
Sheffield were proving to be dogged opposition during the first two periods and they reduced the arrears again at 32.37 with a strike from Ollie Barron.
Whitley began the final session two players short yet again, but as before, once they played off those penalties, they showed the visitors how to score.
Callum Watson netted his third at 45.45 and 80 seconds later Jordan Barnes bore down on goal to put his name on the scoresheet for the first time this season, leaving Shaun Kippin to complete the scoring at 48.05 with the third home goal in as many minutes.
Although the Yorkshire outfit were able to keep pace with the Warriors for two periods and only trailed 3-2 at the second break, coach Garry Dowd revealed afterwards some hard talking during that interval produced the desired performance in the closing 20 minutes.
“We knew what Sheffield were going to bring,” he said. “They always work hard for each other and make life as difficult for the opposition as possible, so we needed to change things around to try and break their rhythm.
“We had a chat about the way things were going in that break, and were then able to play things more at our pace in the last; and the result was we got three goals to set us on the way to that opening night win.”
Callum Watson, as he had been in the victory over Solway the previous Sunday, was the main scoring threat for the home side and a goal in each period saw him hit the first Whitley hat-trick of the new campaign.
“He (Callum) is a naturally fit young lad and has been on fire for us so far,” added Dowd, “but once again we got a good team performance and everyone contributed to the win.
“And I thought we were pretty solid in defence as well. We may have given away a couple of sloppy goals, but we pretty much shut the door on Sheffield apart from that; and for the most part, I was very pleased with our work.”
Although early days, Dowd is quite pleased with the way his new look squad – ten new players so far – is shaping up and he believes the side can only get better.
“We didn’t really have much time pre-season with everyone available to get lines and systems sorted out,” he said.
“But all the players have responded well and my only concern currently is that we may struggle to cope if we pick up a couple of injuries, because we are running with just the three lines at the moment; so ideally, I would like to add two or three more players into the squad.”
Warriors have only one game this weekend, away to Telford Titans on Saturday night.
The next Warriors game at Hillheads is on Sunday, September 25, when Coventry ENL Blaze are the visitors – face-off 5pm.
n Whitley Arrows and Whitley Mischiefs – Page 87