There are just two weekends to go in the NIHL South 2 season and the destination of the league title has still not been decided – while the Slough Jets still have their destiny in their own hands, their overtime defeat to the Oxford City Stars last Saturday means things aren’t settled just yet.
Both the Solent Devils in second and Oxford in third still have a shot of claiming the crown, and both are in action once this weekend while Slough have the weekend off.
Bristol Pitbulls vs Solent Devils
The Solent Devils continue their title quest on Saturday as they travel to Oxford to take on the Bristol Pitbulls.
The Pitbulls went down 8-4 to third placed Chelmsford last weekend, a result which meant they dropped one spot to tenth in the table behind Cardiff. Steve Osman grabbed a hat-trick and Jamie Newton also lit the lamp against the Chieftains, but netminder Andrew Leckie couldn’t stop eight Chelmsford goals from going past him as the Pitbulls suffered defeat. They will be looking to make amends in this game, in what will hopefully be their penultimate “home” game in their adopted rink of Oxford, as they hope to move into a new rink in Bristol next season.
The Devils kept their title hopes alive last weekend with a 5-0 win on the road against potential banana skins Invicta. Alex Murray and Drew Campbell both scored braces with Richard Facey scoring the other goal, while netminder Chico Cole kept a 24 shot shutout, to give the Devils their 23rd win of the season, putting them two points behind leaders Slough with a game in hand.
All the Devils can do now is win their last two games at Bristol and at home to Basingstoke, and hope the Jets slip up against Peterborough in their final game. With the title firmly in their sights, the Devils will be very motivated for this one, and should be too much for the Pitbulls.
Guildford Phoenix vs Basingstoke Buffalo
Fifth placed Guildford complete their season at home on Saturday, against a Basingstoke side still hoping to move up one or two spots in the table.
The Phoenix are already confirmed in their fifth place and cannot be caught, and were involved in a chippy game last Saturday as they went down 7-5 at the Hive to the sixth placed Bracknell Hornets. The game erupted at the 50:58 mark, with three separate fights going on including a scrap between goalies(!) Jacob Stoodley and Mark Duffy. Away from the penalty boxes, the game was a real thriller with Guildford coming back from 6-2 down to 6-5, almost leveling the scores, before conceding a late empty netter to lose 7-5. On target for the Phoenix were Bailey Wootton, Luke Tull (both x2) and Josh Abbott.
While the Phoenix already know where they will finish this season, the Buffalo are still in with a chance of passing Haringey and/or Invicta to secure 12th or even 11th place in the standings. They are two points behind the Huskies after defeating the North London side 9-6 at Ally Pally last weekend; and are also two points behind the Mustangs. With the Huskies now having finished their season and the Mustangs facing a tough trip to Cardiff to end their season, the Buffalo have two games in which to make up the points gap. Although it will be tough, with their remaining two games coming against Guildford on Saturday, and title-chasing Solent next week.
On target for the Buffalo at the Palace last Saturday were Samuel Brooks (x3), Warren Jones (x2), Marcus Russell, Jason Newman, Cameron Buckle and Sam Dollin; with netminder Aaron Burton making 41 saves.
This could be a tighter game than the league table suggests – if the Phoenix rest on their laurels a bit, they could be upset by a Buffalo team that still has something to play for.
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Bracknell Hornets
An big game in the battle for spots six down to eight takes place in Peterborough on Saturday, with the Phantoms in eighth welcoming the Hornets who currently lie in sixth – four points and two places ahead.
The Phantoms had the last two weekends off, with their last game coming on the 10th of March as they lost heavily in Romford to the NIHL2 Raiders, going down 10-1. Nick Alley had scored to put the Phantoms in the lead after just 54 seconds, but the Phantoms then proceeded to concede ten goals without reply in the remainder of the contest and fall to a heavy defeat. That result means that the Phantoms cannot finish above the Raiders (currently in seventh) if they finish level on points – but Peterborough could still finish ahead of the Hornets if they win their last two games. There’s a lot of complicated maths to come in the next few weeks for sure as we try to keep up with all the table permutations.
The Hornets are playing their last game of the season in this one, and can guarantee themselves a finish ahead of the Phantoms if they take at least a point from the game. It’s been a strange season for the Berkshire side, with a lot of ups and downs in the calendar year 2019 so far. However their last two games have been impressive 7-2 and 7-5 wins against the Raiders and Guildford respectively, and they will hope to end the season on a high here with a third consecutive win – which would see them end the season with a winning record of 15-13.
This game is very tricky to call – but on current form, the Hornets may have the slight edge.
Cardiff Fire vs Invicta Mustangs
A Cardiff side buoyed by back-to-back wins over Haringey welcome the Invicta Mustangs to the Viola Arena on Sunday for the Mustangs’ last game of the season.
The Fire were impressive last Sunday, beating Haringey 10-3 at home to move back up to ninth in the table ahead of Bristol. Tamas Elias, Jordan Powell and Morgan Evans all scored braces for the Fire, with single goals for Ricky Deacon, Phil Manny, Iwan Davies and Jackson Price, to give the Fire their second win over the Huskies in as many weeks. The Fire have three games left including this one, and could potentially finish as high as sixth in the table – although one of their remaining games against Chelmsford currently has not been scheduled for any date, and could end up being awarded 0-0.
The Mustangs lie in 11th place, level on points with Haringey but ahead on head-to-head results. There is still an outside chance that Basingstoke can catch and pass them, so this is an important game for the Kent side as they look to end their season on a high. They went down 5-0 at home to title aspirants Solent last Saturday, with netminder Matthew Passmore once again performing heroics in turning away 57 of 62 shots, but the Mustangs were unable to score at the other end and were thus shut out.
This is an intriguing game with both sides still having something to play for – as the home side, the Fire probably have the edge here, but the Mustangs won’t go down without a fight.
Oxford City Stars vs NIHL2 Raiders
Perhaps the biggest game of the weekend takes place on Oxpens Road on Sunday evening, as title chasing Oxford host the NIHL2 Raiders.
The Stars took a crucial victory over league leaders Slough on Saturday, winning a thriller on the road by a scoreline of 5-4 after overtime. On target for the yellows were Matthew Lawday (x2), Josh Florey, Tom Davis, and overtime hero Alex Staples who put away the winning goal at the 64:11 mark and thus broke Slough’s 24 game winning streak. Despite that result, Oxford are still somewhat outside bets to take the title, with Slough still having destiny in their own hands. The Stars will be giving everything in their remaining three games – this one against the Raiders, and back-to-back ties against Chelmsford and Cardiff next weekend – as they look to retain the league title they won a year ago.
The Raiders bounced back from some recent poor results by taking a comfortable 10-2 win on the road against bottom club Lee Valley last Sunday. Brandon Webster had two goals and four assists on the night, with other goals coming from Tommy Huggett, George Gell, Ewan Hill (all x2), Samuel Austin and Jake Hall, as the Romford side banished the memories of the previous weekend in which they had slipped to two defeats, conceding 16 goals in the process. The Raiders are now level on points with the Bracknell Hornets ahead, with both sides playing their last games this weekend. The Raiders will hope that the Hornets lose, and that they can pull off an upset against Oxford, in order to move up to sixth in the table to end the season.
The favourites here are definitely Oxford though, as they will be totally focused on taking a win which will keep them in the title picture for at least another week.
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Solent Devils
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Basingstoke Buffalo
18:15 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Bracknell Hornets
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Invicta Mustangs
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs NIHL2 Raiders
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.