Leeds Chiefs aiming to tame leaders Telford Tigers

THREE previous meetings against NIHL National leaders Telford Tigers have brought nothing but disappointment for Leeds Chiefs - but Sam Zajac is backing his players to end that streak tonight.

Saturday, 28th December 2019, 8:03 am
Leeds Chiefs' will make a game-day call on the fitness of defenceman Steve Duncombe. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The Chiefs resume their bid for the playoffs when playing host to Telford at their temporary ‘home’ rink in Blackburn (5.30pm), desperate to bounce back from the disappointment of defeats to Raiders IHC and Hull Pirates last weekend.

They come up against a team having won their last five games - and seven out of the last eight - while standing eight points clear of nearest rivals Swindon Wildcats.

Tonight sees the Chiefs ‘host’ Telford for the first time this season, having endured nothing but misery on their three visits to Shropshire, even though every game has been a close affair.

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A 5-2 defeat in only their second-ever game back in September preceded a 5-3 loss in early November, while a 3-0 reverse at the end of last month was largely down to losing two players on the night through injury with the game only minutes old.

And it is his team’s performances in Telford that gives Zajac the belief that the hosts are capable of springing a surprise.

“I think we match up relatively well against them, player for player,” said Zajac, whose team head to Bracknell Bees tomorrow night. “We’ve frustrated them at times, at their place , even though they’ve come out with the win each time.

“Every game against them is going to be difficult. They are really well-drilled, everyone knows their role, they are well-managed by a top-class and experienced coach.

OPTIMISTIC: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach Sam Zajac believes his team has the quality to upset leaders Telford Tigers. Picture: Chris Stratford

“They are the form team and while it will be a big ask for us, I maintain that we’ve got the players that can cause a lot of teams problems, including Telford.

“They have emerged as an early favourite for the regular season title and - top-to-bottom all the way through - they probably are the best team, as the standings clearly show.

“Other teams have maybe got better offence or goaltending, but as a full unit they are strong all the way through.”

Tomorrow’s trip to Berkshire represents a different challenge for the Chiefs, who lost out 4-3 to the Bees on their previous visit there in September.

The Bees, coached by Doug Sheppard, are currently sat in the eighth and final spot, 10 points ahead of the Chiefs.

“With our aspirations of making the play-offs we need to get the two points in Bracknell, preferably in regulation,” said Zajac, who will make a game-time decision on injured defenceman Steve Duncombe ahead of the Telford game.

“They beat Swindon last week which is impressive, but that came after them losing four in a row. So you try not to read too much into anything, although it just shows you how competitive this league is top to bottom.”