Milton Keynes Lightning 5 Leeds Knights 0: Lightning strike an early blow on Knights in NIHL National play-off campaign

THANKFULLY for Leeds Knights, the aggregate play-off format is not in place this season. If it were, their season would be close to being over.

By Phil Harrison
Saturday, 9th April 2022, 7:10 am
LOSING CAUSE: Ethan Hehir returned from illness for Leeds Knights but it was a tough night, as they lost out to hosts Milton Keynes Lightning 5-0. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.
LOSING CAUSE: Ethan Hehir returned from illness for Leeds Knights but it was a tough night, as they lost out to hosts Milton Keynes Lightning 5-0. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

Fortunately, the group format offers the Knights five more opportunities in which to make it to the NIHL National Final Four Play-off Weekend on April 30-May 1. But there is significantly less room for error after they were hammered 5-0 at Milton Keynes Lightning.

The two sides meet again on Sunday at Elland Road and Leeds will need to get their act together quickly, preferably showing the same kind of ruthlessness which the Lightning displayed on their home ice on Friday night.

Until last weekend when they lost 2-0 to Sheffield Steeldogs at home in their last match of the regular season, Leeds had not been shut out by an opponent. Now it has happened twice on the trot. The defeat in Milton Keynes was also their heaviest of the season.

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TOUGH NIGHT: Ryan Aldridge saw his Leeds Knights team struggle most of the night in their play-off opener at Milton Keynes Lightning. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

But they have shown time and time again in their inaugural campaign that they have a knack of finding the net. And, despite two barren performances in front of goal, there is no serious reason to suggest that talent for goal-scoring will desert them in the post-season.

The Knights were handed a pre-game boost with the return of experienced centre Matty Davies from injury, while Ethan Hehir, Joe Coulter and Ross Kennedy had all recovered from the illness that kept them out of action last weekend.

As expected, most of the early action came in the Leeds zone, Sam Gospel called upon a number of times to deny the Lightning, although it was the Knights who came closest to scoring first, Cole Shudra breaking down the middle only to see his effort hit the crossbar. Gospel had to be on his toes to twice deny Liam Stewart.

The Lightning continued to dominate possession in the second period and deservedly went ahead at 24.32 when Russell Cowley won the puck on the left boards and quickly fed Stewart who fired into the top right-hand corner of Gospel’s net.

It got worse for the Knights just after the halfway point when a neat drop pass from Adam Laishram found Sean Norris who took a couple of strides before beating Gospel from distance at 31.39.

Leeds only managed five shots on Matt Smital’s net all period and the Lightning’s dominance was further enhanced in the 35th minute when Tim Wallace was allowed time and space to beat Gospel from 10 yards out.

Any hope of a third-period comeback from the Knights was effectively ended just over two minutes in when Sam Talbot deftly tipped in a Norris shot.

The Knights improved and Kieran Brown and Cole Shudra both went close to reducing the arrears but insult was added to injury when Bobby Chamberlain broke clear and fired a bullet past Gospel from the right circle.