Match Preview 3rd November 2019: Derby Fireworks?
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars face their third local derby in a month as Whitley Warriors return to the Forum for a NIHL North Cup clash with the sides separated by a single point in the round-robin Cup table.
Pre-season favourites Whitley are perhaps not in the position they expected to be at this stage in the campaign – at the halfway point of the first round of the Cup they sit five points behind Solway Sharks, the Scots having won all of their games to date including home and away against the Warriors. The weight of expectation has not sat easily on the Tynesiders’ shoulders and last Sunday’s match against Solway at Hillheads was a perfect illustration as Whitley blew a three-goal lead to lose to a Jaakko Heiskanen penalty shot. That made it three wins on the spin for the Sharks against the League and Cup favourites and shifted the balance of power back to Dumfries. The Warriors will therefore be looking for an instant response to send a message to their opponents that they are still the side to be feared.
The Stars are back at the Forum after three games on the road that saw the Teessiders take five points from the maximum of six on offer. Last Sunday’s Division 1 encounter in Nottingham was a chance for Billingham’s considerable offensive threat to take centre stage against bottom-placed Lions and they seized the opportunity, rattling nine past their beleaguered opponents. The Stars are proving to be a real force to be reckoned with up front and are the leading scorers in the Cup competition thus far with goals spread across all lines which makes it difficult for opposing teams to set themselves up. Whitley have the measure of their hosts so far this season however, coming out on top in both previous encounters. Billingham will have the luxury of an almost full roster to select from tomorrow with only Lewis Crisp and Shaun Galloway ruled out, although Matthew Campbell is rated at no better than 50/50 as he continues his recovery from a lower body injury.
General Manager Allen Flavell is expecting fireworks at the Forum:
“It’s always an event when Whitley come to our barn but it seems the Cup favourites are wobbling a little at the minute and maybe we can take advantage of that. Of course it’s a local derby and no one wants to lose – there’s been some spice added during the week with some ‘banter’ flying so I’m expecting both sides to come out all guns blazing. We know we have the firepower to cause the Warriors some real problems, we just need to put the brakes on their forwards and tighten up in some areas defensively – if we can do that then I’m confident we can get one back, we definitely owe them at least one after they snatched an overtime win here last time. We want to give our fans the North East bragging rights back, and providing we all bring our ‘A’-game then I think we can spring a surprise or two.”
Whitley Warriors are the visitors to the Forum for a North Cup encounter tomorrow evening, face off 6.30pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Blackburn Hawks v Sutton Sting, Saturday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 6.30pm
Image credit: Linda Crabtree