Telford Tigers edge closer to title glory

Hexagon Telford Tigers travelled to Leeds to face the bottom of the league Chiefs in a vital National League game.

Tigers' Brandon Whistle battles with Sam Zajac (Photo: Steve Brodie)
Tigers' Brandon Whistle battles with Sam Zajac (Photo: Steve Brodie)

Tigers sat top of the league by five points and with closest rivals Swindon Wildcats not playing, the game represented a perfect opportunity to extend the lead and pile further pressure on the Wiltshire club.

Tigers had lost the previous evening in a penalty shootout to Sheffield Steeldogs, but had gained a valuable point after entering the final minute of the game, a goal behind. Brandon Whistle scored a superb goal to send the game to overtime.

Tigers had lost the last two meetings between the two teams losing in overtime on their last visit to Leeds and a penalty shootout loss the last time the sides met in Telford. Tigers were able to ice an almost entire roster for their third game in three days, with only the suspended Thomas McKinnon and James Smith missing for the game.

Tigers started with Brad Day in goal, Leeds started with Sam Gospel.

Tigers made a disastrous start to the game, conceding with Leeds’ first attack of note.

Lewis Houston scoring with a wrist shot that went in off the crossbar. Tigers were disjointed and struggled to get going.

Houston had a glorious chance to double the lead but shot wide of an open goal.

Leeds were piling the pressure on Day’s net and could have been two or three goals ahead by the ten minute mark.

Tigers equalised in the fourteenth minute. Ricky Plant superbly retained possession of the puck and fought his way to the front of the net and passed to Scott McKenzie who hit a wrist shot that was too hard for Gospel to hold on to as the puck went through him and into the net.

In the dying seconds of the period, with six seconds left, McKenzie gave away an ill advised cross checking penalty.

Leeds managed to win the face off and the unmarked Lewis Baldwin fired the puck into the top corner of the net with 0.1 seconds of the period left, sending Leeds into the break ahead 2-1.

Tigers started the second period in similar sluggish fashion, with Day making a good save from Ethan Hehir, which Danny Rose then cleared off the line.

Adam Barnes then drew a blocker save from Day with Tigers getting caught in their own zone far too often.

As the game reached the halfway stage, Tigers found a spark that turned the game on its head.

Brandon Whistle was causing havoc in the Leeds defence and passed from behind the goal to McKenzie who buried a wrist shot low past Gospel to draw the sides level.

Leeds' energy levels dipped as Tigers seemed buoyed by their goal. Ollie Lord skated out of his defensive zone and as the Leeds defence backed off he slipped a perfectly timed pass to McKenzie who shot into the bottom corner of the net to score a hat trick and give Tigers their first lead of the game.

Tigers didn’t sit back and were rewarded with a fourth goal. Whistle scoring the goal his performance deserved with a shot from the right circle that went under Gospel and into the goal.

As the period drew to a close, Whistle had a breakaway but Gospel pulled off a terrific save. Tigers headed off for a well earned rest, 4-2 ahead.

Leeds were given an early chance to get back into the game in the third period when Andy McKinney was called for tripping giving Leeds a power play.

Leeds scored their third goal when Richard Bentham’s shot from long range deflected off Jason Silverthorn’s leg and past Day.

Tigers were under pressure with Day called on numerous times to keep out the Leeds’ attack but needed the help of Fin Howells to clear one shot that almost snuck past him.

As the game entered the final few minutes Tigers sensibly maintained possession and attempted to run out the clock.

Gospel was pulled from the Leeds goal to give them an extra attacker but this confused the Leeds' players as they ended up with seven players on the ice, gifting a power play to Tigers, allowing them to see the game out and take a huge step towards the championship title.

Tigers’ victory means that they lead Swindon by seven points having played a game more.

A point in Tigers’ next league game against Raiders on the 15th March will see Tigers win the league.

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