After a busy schedule last weekend in which every team played at least once, this weekend is a bit calmer with just six games on the schedule.
The Solent Devils are the only one of the top four in action, as they hope to pull level on points with second placed Chelmsford – provided they can win on the road against Haringey.
Guildford Phoenix vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
Two teams on good runs of form meet at the Spectrum on Saturday, as Guildford in fifth welcome Swindon in 14th.
The Phoenix have now won five of their last six games, with their only defeat in that time period coming against reigning league champions Oxford. Guildford bounced back from that tight Oxford defeat last Saturday, as they beat Peterborough 7-2 at the Spectrum – despite missing three key forwards in Andrew Hemmings, Bailey Wootton and Taylor Wootton. It was the third member of the Wootton clan, Haydn, who stepped up in the absence of his brothers as he scored two goals and two assists, while Josh Abbott (x2), Luke Becker, Luke Tull and Jacob Rondeau-Smith also got on the scoresheet. That result, coupled with the NIHL2 Raiders’ overtime defeat to Oxford on Saturday, allowed the Phoenix to extend their gap over the Raiders to four points – although the Romford side do have a game in hand.
Swindon may still be in 14th, but they have now won four of their last seven games to put daylight between themselves and bottom club Lee Valley, and also move to within one point of Basingstoke ahead. The Wildcats took a comfortable 8-1 home win against Basingstoke last Sunday; with Mason Lipsey bagging a hat-trick, Reed Sayers scoring two goals and two assists, and Jason Warren assisting on five goals. Tyler Perre was also excellent in the Wildcats net, stopping 41 of 42 shots that were fired at him. After a very slow start to the season, the young Wildcats side are now in full flow – and could prove to be tricky opponents for Guildford, if the Phoenix take them lightly.
Haringey Huskies vs Solent Devils
Solent look to draw level on points with second placed Chelmsford on Saturday, but to do so they will need to defeat the Huskies – who have shown an upwards trajectory in form lately.
The Huskies have won their last two games on the bounce, and five of their last eight, as they continue to recover from a poor start to the season in which they lost 11 of their first 14 games. They showed great character to get a 5-4 road win against Bristol last weekend, with Matthew Hepburn being the overtime goalscoring hero as he scored the winner with just 28 seconds to go in the extra period. Earlier on, Stephen Woodford had scored a brace to add to further goals from Ricky Rutherford and Gheorghe Dragomir, while the Huskies also got strong goaltending from David Wride who turned away 47 of 51 Bristol shots.
The Devils will be a big test for this Haringey side though; Solent have now won 16 games in a row, and are two points behind Chelmsford with two games in hand on the Essex side. Last weekend Solent continued their winning run as they comfortably beat Cardiff 8-1 on the road. Mark Pitts scored twice while Mitchell Murray, Alex Cole, Alexander Trendall, Daniel Shier, Drew Campbell and Richard Facey were also on the scoresheet for the Devils in a comprehensive road victory.
Earlier this season, Haringey visited Gosport and went down 9-0 to the Devils. The scoreline may be a bit closer this time, but Solent still have to be considered odds-on favourites to take an important win here and continue their title challenge.
Bracknell Hornets vs Lee Valley Lions
Bottom side Lee Valley travel to the Hive on Saturday to take on a Bracknell side with just one win in their last eight games.
The Hornets had got back to winning ways two weeks ago as they beat Swindon 8-1, but made the tricky trip to Chelmsford’s adopted home rink at Lee Valley last Sunday to face the Chieftains, coming out on the wrong end of a 7-1 defeat. It was definitely not as bad as the 13-3 home thrashing they had suffered at the hands of Chelmsford a few weeks prior; but nonetheless it was another disappointing result for a Hornets side that finished third last season but have slipped to eighth this time around. The sole goalscorer for Bracknell against Chelmsford was Ben Ealey-Newman, while Mark Duffy had an extremely busy night in net as he faced 62 shots, making 55 saves.
The Lions continue to be rooted to the bottom of the table, despite their 5-0 win over Swindon a month ago. Since then, they have lost four straight games including a disappointing 10-0 whitewash at the hands of Peterborough last Sunday. Former Lions captain Nick Alley scored four goals for the Phantoms, while the Lions could not convert any of their 27 shots and were shut out. The injuries are also starting to pile up for the Lions, with the likes of Joe Berry and Conner Smith currently out, so a win on the road against Bracknell is very unlikely – despite the Berkshire side’s recent poor form.
Cardiff Fire vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
The Fire, who have just one win in their last five games, host a Peterborough side three places – but just four points – above them in the table on Saturday evening.
After a relatively strong start to the season in which they won 9 of their first 15 games, the last five haven’t been so kind to the Fire as they have lost four of those games, scoring just nine goals and conceding 25 in the process. This has meant that they have dropped to tenth in the standings. Of course, two of those games were against top four sides in Solent and Oxford – but the Fire would have hoped to have done a bit better against Guildford and Bristol. However despite that, the Fire are still well-placed to move up the table, as they have four games in hand on the Phantoms in seventh and are just four points behind – so a seventh or even sixth placed finish could still be on the cards for the Welsh side, if they can use those games in hand effectively.
The Phantoms had a mixed weekend last time out. On Saturday they were soundly beaten 7-2 by Guildford – although like the Phoenix, they were also missing several first team regulars in that game. The two goals for the Phantoms in that game came through Jordan Liddell and Conor Pollard. On Sunday, they then took a comfortable home win over bottom side Lee Valley, as Nick Alley scored four goals in a 10-0 win in which netminders Dan Lane and Jack Peacock shared a 27-shot shutout. It’s been hard to gauge the Phantoms’ form this season as it has been rather up-and-down; but a road win in South Wales would be massive for the Cambridgeshire side as they look to challenge for a top five or top six finish come the end of the season.
Invicta Mustangs vs Basingstoke Buffalo
Two sides that lost twice last weekend are in action against each other on Sunday, as 13th placed Invicta welcome Basingstoke, who are directly below them in the table.
The Mustangs had an almost impossible task last weekend, having to face championship leaders Slough and reigning champions Oxford on back-to-back days. Unsurprisingly, the Mustangs didn’t win either game; but they did keep the scorelines relatively close in both as they went down 6-0 to Slough at home, and then 7-2 in Oxford. The two goals against Oxford came from Aaron Ferris and Joseph Bliss; while netminder Matthew Passmore once again had a very busy weekend, facing a total of 131 shots across the two games, making an impressive 118 saves.
The Buffalo also had a tough task on Saturday as they welcomed high-flying Chelmsford to Basingstoke, and went down to a heavy 12-2 defeat with Jack Peacock and Cameron Buckle scoring the two Buffalo goals, and Aaron Burton facing 55 shots in net. 24 hours later, they were back in action as they travelled to Swindon and went down 8-1 to a rampant NIHL2 Wildcats side, with the sole Buffalo goal coming from Warren Jones.
The Buffalo are still only three points behind Invicta however with three games in hand, so this is a big game for both sides as they look to finish as high up the table as they can. Any result is possible in what should be a close game.
NIHL2 Raiders vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
The weekend wraps up in Romford on Sunday, as the NIHL2 Raiders host a Wildcats side that are playing their second game in as many days.
The Raiders put in a great performance at home last weekend, holding champions Oxford to a 2-2 regulation tie at the Sapphire – the Stars needed an overtime winner from Dominic Hopkins to take the two points. Goals for the Raiders came from Daniel Hitchings and Ewan Hill, while young netminder Brad Windebank earned more plaudits with another stellar performance in goal as he turned away 55 of 58 Oxford shots. The Raiders are now four points behind Guildford in the battle for fifth place, with one game in hand – that battle could rage on until the end of the season.
The Wildcats play their second road game of the weekend here, having visited Guildford the previous night. The Raiders and Wildcats met earlier in the season at the Link Centre in Swindon, as the Raiders went away with a narrow 5-3 road win back in November. With the Wildcats now on an upswing in form, they could make life very difficult for the Raiders in this game – and could potentially play a big part in determining whether it is Guildford or the Raiders who finish in fifth place this season.
This should be an interesting game, which could be harder to predict than the respective league positions would suggest.
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Solent Devils
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Lee Valley Lions
18:30 Cardiff Fire vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 NIHL2 Raiders vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings