Leeds Knights 3 Milton Keynes Lightning 5 - Frustration as Knights lose ground on NIHL National rivals

ON a weekend when Leeds Knights were looking to make up ground on their rivals for the NIHL National regular season title, they came up empty-handed.

By Phil Harrison
Sunday, 9th January 2022, 9:42 pm
Updated Monday, 10th January 2022, 12:26 am
Kieran Brown scored twice for

Leeds Knights but it couldn't prevent a 5-3 defeat at home to Milton Keynes Lightning on Sunday night. 
Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Kieran Brown scored twice for Leeds Knights but it couldn't prevent a 5-3 defeat at home to Milton Keynes Lightning on Sunday night. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Defeats at Swindon Wildcats on Saturday and at home to Milton Keynes Lightning 24 hours later will have been more frustrating to take because, on both occasions, the Knights were looking good value for the win.

Instead, they find themselves 13 points off new leaders Telford Tigers - who returned to the top on the back of an 8-4 win over second-bottom Bees IHC - with Milton Keynes a point behind and back up to second as a result of their 5-3 win at Leeds.

Swindon - courtesy of their 4-1 win over Leeds - are 11 points ahead better off in third.

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Leeds Knights' Cole Shudra opened the scoring against Milton Keynes Lightning in the first period. Picture: Andy Bourke - Podium Prints

Yes, it’s a sizeable gap opening up but, with 23 games remaining before the play-offs kick in, certainly not insurmountable.

Let’s not forget, this Knights team has offered plenty of evidence that it can live with the best the second tier has to offer. They just need to find a way of doing it more consistently.

Last night was perhaps the perfect example of where the Knights sometimes fall short, 2-0 ahead with just a few minutes remaining in the second, only to find themselves two goals adrift less than eight minutes into the third.

They were able to make it a one-goal game again with 10 minutes remaining, but the Lightning showed their experience to close out the game.

Throughout an enthralling, end-to-end encounter, there was plenty of quality on offer from both teams and it was easy to see why Lightning are regarded as a serious contender, themselves, both teams capable of breaking at speed.

Brandon Whistle was first to call a netminder into action, his effort from the left circle in the second minute forcing the Matthew Smital to smother.

Jordan Fisher back-handed wide from in front before an effort from behind the goal-line from Adam Barnes hit the back of the Lightning netminder but somehow stayed out. The puck found Matty Davies who, from behind the net, fed Archie Hazeldine, the 17-year-old defenceman forcing Smital to make a sharp glove save from the top of the right circle.

At the other end, Sam Gospel had to be alert to deny Edward Knaggs and Tyler Nixon from close range before seeing an effort from Bobby Chamberlain - cutting in from the right boards - hit the side-netting.

Given the pace and the chances being created, a breakthrough had to come and it went the hosts’ way. The always-busy Whistle won the puck in the right circle and, after making room for himself, found an unmarked Cole Shudra who had time to pick his spot to make it 1-0 at 18.21.

Sam Talbot’s effort went inches wide of Gospel’s left-hand post early in the second period, the Leeds netminder then quick to deny Chamberlain on a wraparound, as Smital had to be to frustrate Kieran Brown in the same way at the other end.

Leeds then doubled their advantage seconds after the halfway mark, Brown driving down centre ice where he fired a cannon into Smital’s top right-hand corner from the left circle.

Barnes did well to hold off Stewart only to be denied by Smital’s outstretched right pad and although Leeds soon found themselves on the power play - Nixon sent to the box on a tripping call - it was the visitors who actually benefitted, Sean Norris breaking clear down the middle before sliding the puck home five-hole on Gospel at 36.06.

It that was bad enough, the Knights suffered a nightmare opening to the third, just 33 seconds having elapsed before Norris broke down the left, fed Chamberlain on the opposite wing, the former Hull Pirates forward firing an unstoppable shot in off the bar.

Just over four minutes later, the visitors were ahead when Ethan Hehir was dispossessed by Liam Stewart in front of the net, the puck eventually falling kindly for Leigh Jamieson to fire home. It got worse. A power play saw the Lightning pull further clear at 47.29 when Talbot fed Stewart in front and although a pinpoint pass from Shudra allowed Brown to prod home at the far post to make it 4-3 at 49.43, that was as close as the Knights could get.

Smital stretched his left leg out to deny Brown before Jordan Griffin’s long-range effort pinged off the bar. Jamieson then doubled his tally with eight seconds left when left with an empty net strike.