Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars failed to contain pre-tournament favourites Whitley Warriors in the NIHL North Cup derby at the Forum on Sunday evening, going down 2-6 in a chippy game that had a bit of everything for the fans.

Stars went into the derby game missing the much-needed physical presence of Matty Campbell at the back, but handed spots to up-and-coming youngsters Joe Walls and Stuart Jackson. Whitley arrived on Teesside with a full bench but without Player/Coach David Longstaff who spent the game in civvies on the bench with his Premier League footballing sons Sean and Matthew.

The tone of the game was set in the warm-up period when Warriors Jordan Barnes mixed things up in the opposition's half leading to a melee of players pushing and shoving. Big hits and plenty of Whitley pressure were the norm from the off, but it was Warriors netminder Richie Lawson who made the first real save in the third minute when captain Michael Elder shot straight at him for a relatively simple stop. On four minutes Daniel Silar fired just over as the Stars tried to make the most of the opportunities that did come their way. The big hits kept coming, and Whitley's Josh Maddock was joined in the penalty box by Elder after falling foul of referee Dave Emmerson in the eighth minute, Rolands Gritans also drawing a roughing minor for his reaction to Elder's charging call. On the subsequent power play, James Hellens saw his point shot knocked away by Lawson's stick. The Warriors had only just returned to full strength when Jordan Barnes opened the scoring for the visitors, his shot from out wide going straight through Stars netminder Mark Watson. Billingham had long spells to defend thereafter, and whilst it was not always pretty to watch the home side kept the Cup favourites at bay. A late opportunity fell to James Moss in the final 15 seconds but Lawson cut the angle and the chance went begging.

The second period started in much the same vein, with the Stars pegged into their own zone for long spells. Callum Queenan attempted to go high at the near post in the 22nd minute but Watson was equal to the challenge. Whitley captain Dean Holland hit the crossbar in the 25th minute as the visitors piled on the pressure, the hosts not registering a shot in anger until the 27th minute when Lawson tipped a Silar shot over the bar with the glove. At the other end Watson was pulling off the saves to keep his side in the game, denying Phil Edgar incoming to his near post in the 31st minute and then diving on a loose puck at the feet of the lurking Ross Murray in the 35th minute. A minute later and Silar made the jump through two defencemen to break clear and fired off the post, Craig Thurston unable to follow up before Lawson made it safe. In his frustration Silar reacted badly to a perceived slash as he got his shot away and drew a ten-minute misconduct penalty for his troubles. The Warriors finally got the goal their pressure had threatened for some time on 36.21 as Harry Harley picked his spot with the Billingham defence standing off him.

If the first forty minutes had been tight, the third session was much more open as the Stars were forced to chase the game. Murray took the match out of sight on 41.22 with the simplest of tap-ins into an open net as he was the man in the right spot to capitalise on a Phil Edgar rebound. Holland made it four on 45.51when he lifted a loose puck over a prone Watson, then on the power play just over two minutes later it was five, Queenan picking out Gritans on the near post. Billingham called their timeout in response and almost got a goal back immediately through Tomáš Rubeš, but it was the Warriors who increased their lead further on 50.42, Kyle Ross finding the top corner from a wide position. With the game gone the Stars eventually found some rhythm and ensured Lawson would not get his shut-out when Callum Davies knocked the home side’s opener in at the near post on 53.13. Chris Sykes and Niall Ryder dropped the gloves in the 58th minute after the Whitley fringe player had made an illegal challenge on Watson, on the subsequent power play Elder’s blue line effort was dropped by Lawson at the feet of Davies who converted on 57.46 to give the scoreline a more respectable slant.

Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Callum Davies.

Stars Stats:

Callum Davies 2+0; Michael Elder 0+1; Tom Keeley 0+1; Tomáš Rubeš 0+1

SOG: Mark Watson 39 (15 / 15 / 9)

Warriors Stats:

Kyle Ross 1+2; Dean Holland 1+2; Harry Harley 1+1; Jordan Barnes 1+0; Rolands Gritans 1+0; Ross Murray 1+0; Callum Queenan 0+2; Phil Edgar 0+1; Ben Campbell 0+1; Ben Richards 0+1

SOG: Richie Lawson 30 (8 / 8 / 14)

Coach Stephen Foster conceded that his defensive plan worked only in part:

“In parts we were doing what we were supposed to do defensively and we kept the game close for long periods. We were trying to control their possession rather than skate with them and keep them to the outside to make it difficult. We opened up a bit too much in the third chasing the game and the goals we did get came too late.”

The Stars are in Cup action again next weekend, a trip to Solway Sharks on Saturday 9th November (face off 7pm) is followed by the visit of Dundee Comets to the Forum on Sunday 10th November, face off 6.30pm.

 

Weekend Results:

NIHL(N)1:

Blackburn Hawks 4 Sutton Sting 3

North Cup:

Billingham Stars 2 Whitley Warriors 6

 

Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree