Leeds Knights 3 Milton Keynes Lightning 2 - Knights strengthen grip at the top after edging out nearest rivals

IT wasn’t pretty. It didn’t need to be. In the end, all that mattered were the two points.

Leeds Knights were already in a position of strength ahead of Friday night’s NIHL National top two clash with Milton Keynes Lightning.

Their position has just got stronger.

Outshot almost two-to-one, at times a backs-to-the-wall mentality was required to get over the line. But they did - their 3-2 victory clearly delighting head coach Ryan Aldridge.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
UP AND RUNNING: Mac Howlett gave Leeds Knights the lead with a first period strike. Picture: Bruce RollinsonUP AND RUNNING: Mac Howlett gave Leeds Knights the lead with a first period strike. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
UP AND RUNNING: Mac Howlett gave Leeds Knights the lead with a first period strike. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“It is a big win tonight, absolutely,” said Aldridge. “I thought Milton Keynes were very good – those were two good teams going at it.

“I don’t think we were as fluid as we would have wanted to be but, in games like that, you have just got to find a way to win and, in the end, we did.”

Grade A chances were hard to come by in the opening exchanges and it was Mac Howlett who came closest to breaking the deadlock, only to be denied from around eight yards out by Will Kerlin.

In the end, it was the first penalty call of the night that proved decisive when Edward Knaggs was called for tripping at 12.34, Leeds taking less than a minute to make their man advantage count when the rapid Howlett danced all the way down the middle of the ice and although his shot had plenty on it, it crept through Kerlin’s legs to put the hosts ahead at 13.05.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
GOOD NIGHT: Leeds Knights' head coach. Ryan Aldridge. Picture Bruce RollinsonGOOD NIGHT: Leeds Knights' head coach. Ryan Aldridge. Picture Bruce Rollinson
GOOD NIGHT: Leeds Knights' head coach. Ryan Aldridge. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It was one that Kerlin would probably want back and that's how the score stayed until early in the second when Leeds doubled their advantage through Jordan Buesa at 22.28.

The Knights were outshot in the first and the trend continued in the middle period, so it was no surprise when the Lightning did finally get on the board, after Jake Witkowski headed to the penalty box on an interference call.

Dillon Lawrence was the beneficiary, left all alone at the bottom of the left circle from where he fired on net towards Sam Gospel, who could only parry the effort and watch as it agonisingly crept over the line with 27.30 on the clock.

The pace at times was frenetic and the Knights came close to restoring their two-goal lead when Ethan Hehir saw his effort clip the crossbar when one-on-one with Kerlin in the 35th minute.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At the other end, moments later, Gospel had to first be alert to deny Liam Stewart in the same scenario and then secondly grateful when the Lightning forward’s rebound effort cannoned off the right-hand post.

Leeds did think they’d gone two goals ahead again early in the third only to see Matt Haywood’s effort wiped off when the officials judged the initial shot had ricocheted off Kerlin’s mask and hampered his attempts to stop the goal. There were strong protests from the Knights’ players, all to no avail.

But it mattered not because – just 45 seconds later – Haywood got his goal, the veteran centre providing a clinical finish at 43.39 from the bottom of the left circle after a skilful reverse pass off Buesa from behind the Lightning net.

The Knights had an opportunity to put the game to bed when they went on the powerplay in the 55th minute when Lewis Christie was called for tripping.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But the goal actually came at the other end, the Knights offence breaking down too easily to allow Ross Venus the opportunity to break down centre ice before beating Gospel to make it 3-2 at 56.18.

Cue nerves among the home fans and, quite probably, on the home bench.

But, despite the Lightning spending most of the remaining three or so minutes camped in the Knights’ zone, the hosts’ held out, extending their cushion at the top over the visitors to seven points with a game in hand.

The Lightning have a tough assignment on Saturday when they host fourth-placed Peterborough Phantoms. Another reverse there could open the door for Swindon Wildcats, who are only four points further back in third with two games in hand on Tim Wallace’s team.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Knights get the night off before heading to Raiders IHC on Sunday – where the Lightning were edged out by the same 3-2 scoreline last weekend.

“Gossy was very good for us and we ran with 4 ‘D’ – so that was obviously a struggle and they were tired, really tired,” added Aldridge, who was without the suspended D-man Dylan Hehir.

“We decided to go with the four D and I just felt they were phenomenal – they are absolutely shattered now, but you are always likely to get outshot heavily when you’re only running with four D.

“The pressure was on them coming here tonight, but I also think there was pressure on us. There was a lot riding on it really - especially against a team like that. They could have really closed the gap but I was happy with the boys, really happy with the boys.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It was a good, solid hockey game. The first two periods were end-to-end hockey. They are a good team and played very, very well. We just found a way to win.

“Every game is massive now and we’re getting to crunch time. Are they going to get points back on us? Of course they are, but Swindon are also right on everyone’s tails, too. There’s a lot of hockey still to come.”