Leeds Knights stay in Autumn Cup Final hunt against Swindon Wildcats thanks to Harry Gulliver double

HARRY GULLIVER again proved to be the man for the occasion in the Autumn Cup for Leeds Knights, his double strike ensuring they remain firmly in contention in their two-legged final against Swindon Wildcats.

By Phil Harrison
Saturday, 18th December 2021, 11:47 am
INCOMING: Leeds Knights' Adam Barnes, left, gets in a shot on Swindon Wildcats' net in the second period. Picture courtesy of David North/Swindon Wildcats.
INCOMING: Leeds Knights' Adam Barnes, left, gets in a shot on Swindon Wildcats' net in the second period. Picture courtesy of David North/Swindon Wildcats.

The Wildcats ultimately sealed a 3-2 win over Leeds in the opening encounter at the Link Centre but, thanks to a dogged Knights display and Gulliver’s goals the tie is still very much up for grabs when the two meet again at Elland Road on Thursday night.

Gulliver - playing for Leeds on a two-way deal from Elite League outfit Manchester Storm - had been the visitors’ main threat most of the evening in Wiltshire.

Missing defensive pair Sam Zajac and Ross Kennedy, Leeds were otherwise at full strength, their ranks boosted by the addition of Gulliver, who had proved so effective in both legs of their semi-final success against Sheffield Steeldogs - scoring three goals as the Knights prevailed 9-6 on aggregate.

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FIRST STRIKE: Leeds Knights' Matty Davies puts pressure on Renny Marr's goal at The Link Centre on Friday night. Picture courtesy of David North/Swindon Wildcats.

“It was a good game between two teams who I felt played really well and were a good match for each other,” said Knights coach Dave Whistle afterwards. “Gossy made some timely saves for us, as he often does, but I felt we were more than a match against a team which was in a really good run of form and flying.

“It was great to get that second goal when we did, because it gives us a boost going into the second leg. We can’t wait for that game because it looks like our barn might be a sellout and it is going to be a great atmpsphere to play in.”

As expected, Leeds came under immediate pressure from the hosts in Wiltshire, goaltender Sam Gospel having to be alert in the first minute to twice deny Emil Svec from close-range.

But he was helpless when Sam Godfrey’s blast from the left boards sailed through traffic and past him into the roof of the net to give Swindon the lead at 11.19.

BOARD BATTLE: Cole Shudra tussles for possession of the puck on Friday night. Picture courtesy of David North/Swindon Wildcats.

At the other end, Renny Marr had had to deny Brandon Whistle and smother a long-range effort from Bobby Streetly before the lively Gulliver rattled his left-hand post shortly before the interval.

But any momentum Leeds might have felt they had going into the locker room at the first break was quickly eradicated when the hosts doubled their lead soon after the restart, Edgars Bebris finishing off a smart passage of play at 21.00 involving Svec and Chris Jones which left Gospel completely exposed.

Swindon sensed Leeds were there for the taking and continued to enjoy the greater possession and chances, but Gospel stood tall enabling the deficit to remain at just two going into the third, with Leeds having come close on only a couple more occasions from Gulliver and Kieran Brown.

But it was Gulliver who got his reward for his industry when he was in the right place on his own at the back post to finish off a sharp passing exchange involving Brown and Cole Shudra, cutting the deficit to one at 43.11.

Harry Gulliver showed his penchant for Autumn Cup goals again with two in the 3-2 first leg defeat at Swindon. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Leeds then enjoyed their best period of the game and came close to levelling several times, but they were hit by a sucker punch when defenceman Ben Solder coughed up possession in centre ice.

Swindon broke quickly to create a 3-on-2 involving Sam Bullas and player-coach Aaron Nell, his pass finding Tomasz Malasinski all alone at the back post to fire past an already-committed Gospel and restore his team’s two-goal advantage at 52.03.

Swindon would have been quite happy with that advantage heading to Leeds, but their opponents clearly had other ideas, throwing themselves a massive lifeline in the closing minutes.

Matty Davies chased up his own dump into the boards and, from behind the net picked out Gulliver, again left all alone and allowed to fire past Marr from close range at 57.46.

INJURY CONCERN? Kieran Brown limped off in the 50th minute after being judged to have been cross-checked by Edgars Bebris and didn't return to the game. Picture: Andy Bourke - Podium Prints

It was enough and just rewards for Whistle’s players, although there will be concern over winger Brown, who limped from the ice after Bebris was judged to have cross-checked him in the 49th minute.

Before Thursday’s rematch, both teams have back-to-back games to contend with, Leeds heading to Basingstoke Bison tonight before playing host against the same opponents 24 hours later. Swindon play host to Raiders before heading to Romford on Sunday.