Leeds Knights 3 Basingstoke Bison 4: Knights slide but new coach Ryan Aldridge sees positive signs

FOR 40 minutes against Basingstoke Bison, interim coach Ryan Aldridge felt his new Leeds Knights charges were “brilliant”. The problems he knows he will have to address later this week came in the other 20.

By Phil Harrison
Sunday, 16th January 2022, 10:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 9:59 am

Around Christmas time, the Knights were looking well-placed to be part of a top five that was pulling clear of the other teams in NIHL National.

Last night, they trudged off the ice seventh in the standings and with just one win in six games.

A first period pep talk from Aldridge gained him the response and performance he was looking for but, throughout the night, the hosts were always chasing the game, ultimately running out of time.

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Kieran Brown scored again for Leeds Knights, but the hosts lost out 4-3 to Basingstoke on Sunday night. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“I thought for 40 minutes we were brilliant,” said Aldridge. “The last two periods we engaged in battles, we competed harder. In the first 20 minutes, though, we were a little stand-offish - they created way too many turnovers on us, we made soft plays.

“Based on two hours of practice, to come away with that result was pretty good. It was an early goal to concede and it’s a young team here as well and you could see the body language - as soon as they got scored on their shoulders went down.

“Overall though, I was impressed by the way everybody competed and battled, which in the first period I didn’t think we did. But we had a little bit of a chat in that first break and the boys responded well.”

Life under Aldridge could not have got off to a worse possible start, Leeds going behind to an Aidan Doughty strike after just 47 seconds, the situation deterioating just under seven minutes later when Adam Harding doubled the advantage.

STAYING POSITVE: Leeds Knights interim coach, Ryan Aldridge.

But Leeds - with former Hull Pirates captain Jamie Chilcott making his debiut in defence - then settled and began to enjoy more time in the Bison zone, halving the deficit in the 17th minute when Archie Hazeldine fired on net from the bottom of the right circle and, with Kieran Brown pressuring, the puck found its way past Alex Mettam and over the line.

Moments later, the hosts had a lucky escape when their desire to draw level got the better of them and presented Bison with a three-on-one, George Norcliffe driving down the right before forcing Gospel into a save, the Leeds netminder preventing the rebound from finding an opponent before Ethan Hehir cleared the danger.

But while they got away with that one, Leeds will have been disappointed with the manner of the goal that did see Bison restore their two-goal cushion.

Player-coach Ashley Tait won a face-off in the right circle, the puck broke for Harding, who quickly fed it across the front of goal to where Zack Milton was free to tap home at 24.38.

Captain Sam Zajac gave Leeds Knights hope with a third period reply, but it wasn't enough to stop defeat to Basingstoke. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

A 5-on-3 powerplay gave Leeds an excellent opportunity to get back to within one just under two minutes later when Bison defensive pair Jay King and Adam Jones found themselvs in the penalty box.

It only took Leeds 16 seconds to make their advantage count, too, Brandon Whistle - possibly playing his last game for the team - firing a pinpoint pass from the left side to Brown at the bottom of the right circle, the 20-year-old left free to fire into the roof of the net.

Lewis Baldwin was then denied at point-blank range, while a tip from in front by Jordan Fisher spun inches wide.

At the other end, Gospel and then Baldwin ensured the Knights went in at the break just one adrift stopped goalbound efforts during an almighty scramble in front of net.

But in an almost carbon copy of the second period, the Knights did fall further behind just over four minutes into the third, Doughty doubling his tally when he sprinted clear down the left to beat Gospel over his shoulder at the near post.

This time, the Knights’ response was quicker, Shudra reaching the left circle and squaring across the front of goal where Zajac got enough on the puck to force it home at 45.22.

It was, at times, breathless end-to-end stuff, Gulliver hitting the base of Mettam’s post in the 50th minute, before Gospel’s right pad denied Norcliffe again.

There was no lack of endeavour from the hosts and, despite Aldridge pulling Gospel with 80 seconds remaining and sending on the extra skater, there was to be no further scoring.