Leeds Chiefs urged to ‘close out’ in order to bridge gap on NIHL National playoff rivals

ALTHOUGH it is far from critical status in Leeds Chiefs’ inaugural season, player-coach Sam Zajac is urging his players to begin ‘closing the deal’ out more often.

Saturday, 30th November 2019, 2:13 pm
Sam Zajac battles for possession during Leeds Chiefs'last encounter at Telford Tigers. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

Another 48 hours on the road for the Chiefs’ homeless roster sees them head for a third time this season to NIHL National title hopefuls Telford Tigers, before staging a ‘home’ game at Milton Keynes Lightning tomorrow.

The slightly bizarre status of tomorrow’s game will probably not be lost on fans of either club – a team from Leeds playing host … in the ‘visitors’ own rink.

And with the earliest home game scheduled at the incomplete Elland Road venue now set to be the middle of January at the earliest – there is, of course, every chance it could be pushed back again – be ready for a run of similar ‘home’ matches for the Chiefs which will see them play ‘host’ in destinations as far and wide as Peterborough, Coventry, Basingstoke and, of course, Blackburn.

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Leeds Chiefs will look to repeat the success they enjoyed on their last time playing at Milton Keynes. Picture courtesy of Tony Sargent.

As it stands, we are still only a third of the way through the season, meaning bottom-of-the-table Chiefs have plenty of time to turn themselves into a genuine playoff contender.

But Zajac knows that in order for that to happen his team need to close out games where they have got themselves into commanding positions more often. The two most recent ‘home’ games in Blackburn are clear evidence of them failing to do that.

At 3-1 and 4-2 up against Sheffield Steeldogs, the Chiefs twice let the position slip, eventually fell behind before rescuing the night with an overtime winner, the downside being to allow Ben Morgan’s team – potentially a rival for one of the lower playoff spots come March – to take a point back home to South Yorkshire.

The following week, the Chiefs found themselves 4-2 up against another Yorkshire rival, Hull Pirates, the difference being on this occasion that there was to be no way back once Jason Hewitt’s side went in front, eventually going down 6-4.

Zajac has always been confident in his roster’s ability – they just need to start making it count more often

“From day one, it has almost been a kind of underdog mentality with our group,” said Zajac. “We can hang with every team in this league, we know we’ve got the players capable of doing that but I think it is almost a mental hurdle sometimes for us to turn these narrow losses into wins – just seeing games out, improving our game management.

“In the last couple of weeks we’ve been up by two goals in a couple of games and we’ve let it slip. When we get in those dominant positions we need to close the game out.”

While today’s trip to Shropshire is seen as the tougher of the two assignments, Zajac backs his team to come away from each game with something to show for their efforts – although a different approach will be required each night.

“We’re definitely capable of getting something out of Telford,” added Zajac. “I’ve said all season that we’re capable of beating anyone in this league.

“When you look at the standings it is a real four-pointer down at Milton Keynes. It is a massive game for us.

“Saturday is a game where the performance matters as much as the points, but Sunday is a case of any kind of win will do – it is simply about the points because, depending on results elsewhere this weekend, a win could lift us off the bottom.”