Leeds Knights 4 (6) Swindon Wildcats 5 (8) - Autumn Cup Final agony as Knights fall just short

LEEDS KNIGHTS may have come up agonisingly short in their bid to lift the Autumn Cup, but it was still a memorable night at Elland Road.

By Phil Harrison
Friday, 24th December 2021, 8:37 am

LEEDS KNIGHTS may have come up agonisingly short in their bid to lift the Autumn Cup, but it was still a memorable night at Elland Road.

Trailing 3-2 from the first leg, Leeds actually had one hand on the trophy after 40 minutes when two third period goals from the mercurial Kieran Brown put them 5-4 ahead on aggregate – the first time they had led in the tie.

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But, within two minutes of the third period opening, the game was turned on its head, Swindon Wildcats scoring twice on the power play, establishing a lead in this pulsating encounter that, this time, they did not give up again.

Leeds came back once more, making it a one-goal game with more than 10 minutes remaining, but it was a comeback too far, the Wildcats sealing victory with an empty-net strike from Edgars Bebris with just seconds on the clock, sealing a 5-4 win on the night.

Given their injury travails in recent weeks, Knights’ head coach Dave Whistle was positively overflowing with bodies on the Knights bench, captain Sam Zajac coming back from his honeymoon, while fellow defenceman Ross Kennedy also returned after being out ill. With Joe Coulter unavailable, Jacob Lutwyche got his second start in a Knights jersey,

It was Leeds who came closest to breaking the deadlock less than two minutes in, Brown finding himself with his back to goal 10 yards out before quickly swivelling to force a smart pad save from Renny Marr.

So close: Leeds Knights reflect at full-time after they were beaten 8-6 in the Autumn Cup Final by Swindon Wildcats last night. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It was at the other end where the goal came with 5.24 on the clock. With Archie Hazeldine in the box on a delay of game call, the Knights looked like they had killed off the subsequent penalty.

But Swindon concocted a two-on-one and with Sam Gospel committed to the oncoming Emil Svec, he was able to slide the puck across to Reed Sayers who had a simple tap-in. Swindon were the more assured of the two teams and Gospel had a couple more smart saves to make, but there were plenty of openings at the other end, Lutwyche and Shudra both forcing Marr to react quickly.

The tie was very much still alive and it became even more so when Adam Barnes reduced the deficit to one goal, breaking down the middle and firing a shot off which caught Marr by surprise at 16.08. Shortly after the announcer Rich Williams revealed a record turnout of 2,048 early in the second, the Knights celebrated accordingly.

The busy Shudra broke down the right before cutting into the middle and finding Brown on the wing, he slid the puck across to his team-mate who promptly fired through Marr from a tight angle at 21.28. The hosts clearly sensed the tie was there for the taking, Shudra twice going close. The pressure forced penalties from Swindon, but the goal wouldn’t come, despite Leeds at times seemingly camped in the Swindon zone.

On target: Keiron Brown celebrates scoring his second goal for the Knights. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Whistle, then Lewis Baldwin, both tried their luck from distance but it was another power play what produced the most raucous noise of the night, Brown, picking the puck up around the halfway point and gliding with ease past three Swindon players before firing off a shot which burst through Marr at 33.39.

But penalties taken by Jordan Griffin and Brandon Whistle towards the end of the middle period were to prove costly.

With Swindon on a 5-on-3 power play, Svec took just 27 seconds of the third to level the tie. Only another 46 seconds had passed when Swindon then went ahead overall, Balint Pakozdi tapping home at the far post for another power play strike.

The mood quietened among the home crowd even further when Tomasz Malasinski back-handed his penalty shot through Gospel’s legs at 46.30, but it changed when the Knights made it a one-goal game through Matty Davies’ close-range effort, but despite huge Leeds pressure in the last 10 minutes, Marr remained unmovable.

Crunch: Leeds' Jacob Lutwyche is brought down by Wildcats' Edgars Bebris. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The Wildcats netminder earned his money in the closing moments, pulling off a number of fine stops to deny the hosts and enable his team to lift the first piece of silverware for the season.

Scramble: Leeds' Kieran Davies can't find a way through for a last- minute equaliser in last night's final. Picture Bruce Rollinson