Leeds Knights remain out in front but Milton Keynes Lightning and Swindon Wildcats waiting for chance to pounce
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Both games were decided by the odd goal, the Knights prevailing early in overtime in Romford for a 5-4 triumph before being edged out by a 48th-minute strike from Swindon’s Gael Luwbwele which proved enough to deny them at The Link Centre.
Ahead of Sunday’s home game against Telford Tigers, the two results left the Knights three points clear of second-placed Milton Keynes Lightning who - buoyed by reaching the NIHL National Cup Final two nights earlier at the expense of Swindon - maintained the pressure on them in the league standings with a 10-3 win at bottom club Bristol Pitbulls.
Milton Keynes were scheduled to meet Swindon again on home ice on Sunday night when a regulation win either way would probably best suit Leeds - presuming they were able to take care of business against Telford.
Leeds still have two games to come against Swindon - one home and one away - while their only remaining fixture against the Lightning is on the road on March 16.
They have four games remaining against Yorkshire rivals Hull Seahawks, fast becoming their bogey team having inflicted their only back-to-back defeats of the season when prevailing in the recent NIHL National Cup semi-final clash between the two.
The Knights looked in control at Raiders on Friday when taking a 2-0 lead into the first break thanks to strikes from captain Kieran Brown - firing home after just 20 seconds - and the ever-improving Finn Bradon, who doubled the lead at 10.19.
Raiders halved the deficit in the second through a 23rd-minute goal from Adam Laishram and got themselves level when Jake Sylvester beat Sam Gospel at 44.48.
Brown’s second at 47.45 edged the Knights ahead again but Coy Prevost and Laishram with his second scored just 86 seconds apart turned the game on its head in the 51st minute.
Jordan Buesa got the Knights back on even terms at 55.55 which was enough to earn them at least a point until overtime was settled just 51 seconds in through Matt Haywood’s power play winner.
Elsewhere, Hull Seahawks strengthened their grip on fourth place with a 6-3 win over second-bottom Sheffield Steeldogs.
Goals from Owen Sobhcak (2), Declan Jones (2), Bobby Chamberlain and Jordan Fisher sealed the win for the hosts, Lee Haywood, Lewis Bell and Tate Shudra responding for the Steeldogs.
The result ensured the Seahawks remain seven points adrift of Swindon with a game in hand, while the Steeldogs are now nine points out of the play-off positions with 15 games remaining.
Hull travel to Raiders on Sunday, while the Steeldogs entertain Bristol at Ice Sheffield (4.30pm).