The upcoming weekend looks to be a crucial one in the NIHL South 2 title battle, with the top 3 sides Oxford, Solent and Bracknell each playing once, as do Chelmsford and Peterborough in fourth and fifth respectively.
Saturday will be extremely busy with five games scheduled. League leaders Oxford travel to Cardiff to take on the Fire, while second placed side Solent host Haringey. Both Cardiff and Haringey are also locked in a battle for the last playoff spots, making these two games even more interesting. The other games see Bristol host Invicta, Slough entertain Basingstoke, and bottom side Lee Valley travelling to Swindon.
There would have been a sixth game on Saturday – and a crucial one at that – with third placed Bracknell scheduled to host an in-form Chelmsford side. However that game has now been postponed due to a clash with the Bracknell Bees’ NIHL South 1 playoff home game. A new date for the Hornets-Chieftains game is to be announced
Both Bracknell and Chelmsford will play on Sunday, however; the Hornets travel to Peterborough to take on the Phantoms in what could be the game of the weekend, while Chelmsford host the Bristol Pitbulls.
Solent Devils vs Haringey Huskies
In one of Saturday’s most intriguing – and most important – games, title-chasing Solent entertain a Haringey side desperate to cling onto a playoff place.
Solent (19 wins/2 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 39 points) currently sit second in the league, but their last two games were not as imperious as the 14 that had come before. Two weekends ago, Bracknell ended Solent’s run of 14 straight wins, as the Hornets won 2-1 at the Hive in one of the biggest games of the season so far. And last weekend Solent found themselves 3-0 down in Guildford before a rousing performance saw the Devils grab five unanswered goals to win the game 5-3. Solent sit three points behind leaders Oxford and have one game in hand, so this game is crucial in order to keep up that pressure. Richard Facey and Mitchell Murray scored four points each in that comeback win over Guildford last weekend, and they will be among the dangermen for the Devils as usual.
Haringey (9 wins/13 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 19 points) lost a key game to the Slough Jets last time out, going down 4-3 in overtime at the Palace. The point they gained from that overtime defeat sees them hold onto eighth place – and therefore the final playoff slot – but with Bristol and Cardiff both within a few points of the Huskies, the North Londoners can’t afford many more defeats this season. The game against title-chasing Solent would appear to come at the wrong time for Haringey, with a defeat looking likely on paper. But if the likes of Stephen Woodford and Sam Roberts can shine for the Huskies and they manage to defeat Solent, imagine what that will do for their confidence ahead of their remaining games?
Solent look like likely winners here however, having already beaten the Huskies 7-1 at the Palace last month.
Don’s Prediction: Solent 6-2 Haringey
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 8-3 Haringey
Bristol Pitbulls vs Invicta Mustangs
Bristol have a must-win game on “home ice” in Oxford on Saturday as they are visited by Invicta.
The Pitbulls (8 wins/13 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 17 points) have managed to keep themselves in playoff contention after a narrow 2-1 win over Basingstoke last week, which moved them into ninth place, over Cardiff. Bristol have two games in hand on Haringey in eighth, and sit two points back. But after this week’s game, they have a brutal schedule—four away games against Chelmsford, Guildford, Peterborough and Bracknell. So if Bristol are going to steal a playoff spot, they need a win on Saturday over Invicta, and probably a few upsets along the way.
Invicta (6 wins/16 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 13 points) have no playoff aspirations, but they undoubtedly have aspirations to score goals. They haven’t found the back of the net since 17 February, having been shut out by Oxford City and Chelmsford. Last week against the Chieftains, Michal Oravec scored twice for Chelmsford within in the first five minutes as they dominated the Mustangs, 8-0. But on the positive side, last time Invicta met Bristol, the Mustangs won 6-2.
Will the pressure of absolutely needing a win get to Bristol? Or will they be spurred on to a win that would keep their dim playoffs hopes alive? This could be a tight game.
Don’s Prediction: Bristol 5-3 Invicta
Laurence’s Prediction: Bristol 4-2 Invicta
Slough Jets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
The Jets will be looking to solidify their position in the playoffs on Saturday as the welcome in Basingstoke to the mini-Hangar for the Jets penultimate game of the season.
Slough (11 wins/13 regulation losses, 22 points) have been stellar at home, and haven’t lost at home since November. They kept that run going last Saturday with a stunning victory over Bracknell—which may have ruined the Hornets chances of winning the league. The Jets got on the board first thanks to Lukas Smital, but Bracknell responded with four unanswered goals to take a three-goal lead. Jamie Chandler started Slough’s comeback, and then Simon Griffiths’ one-timer from the blue line make it a one-goal game at the end of the second. Liam Underdown equalized on the powerplay before Bracknell retook the lead. Then Jack Standing picked the perfect time to score his first goal of the season and the game went to OT. The Hornets were given a penalty shot midway through, but netminder Chris Douglas was aggressive and made the save. With under a minute left, the Jets had a two-on-one and Luke Reynolds buried the puck home, sending Slough’s largest gate of the season into raptures. Douglas, who had made some stellar saves on breakaways in addition to stopping the OT penalty shot, was awarded man of the match.
Basingstoke (5 wins/14 regulation losses/4 OT losses, 14 points) played in a similar fixture, but they were on the receiving end of a close loss in their Sunday match against Bristol. The Pitbulls led within three minutes thanks to Giovanni Raffaelli. Neither side could find the back of the net until the third period, when Oscar Evans equalized for the Buffalo in the 50th minute. But Bristol dug deep and Raffaelli scored again four minutes after Basingstoke’s goal to put the Pitbulls back in the lead to stay. Basingstoke have now lost three games on the trot and are no longer a player in the playoff race.
Last time Slough and Basingstoke met the Buffalo secured a 6-5 home victory. This one will probably have a different result.
Don’s Prediction: Slough 7-4 Basingstoke
Laurence’s Prediction: Slough 6-3 Basingstoke
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Lee Valley Lions
A true basement battle takes place on Saturday with the winless Lee Valley Lions travelling to the side currently in 13th, Swindon.
The Wildcats (4 wins/16 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 9 points) won their last outing 3-2 at home to the Bristol Pitbulls to extend their points over the Lions to six points. That was Swindon’s first win in over a month after four defeats in a row. Nathan Chilcott, Christopher Leykam and Haydn Lee each got a goal in the win over the Pitbulls while Michael Crisp was stellar in goal, stopping 44 of 46 Bristol shots. The youthful Wildcats will hope to defeat the Lions and avoid propping up the table come the end of the season.
Lee Valley (3 OT losses/18 regulation losses, 3 points) have endured a very tough season for a number of reasons, but relief is in sight: their next four games see them face Swindon twice, Invicta once and Basingstoke once. These are the three sides closest to them in the table, so the Lions will feel confident of finally picking up a win or two in order to end the season on a high. With a six point deficit to Swindon ahead of them, two wins over the Wildcats could see the Lions make a late-season run for 13th spot in the league – but they will have to win this weekend to stand any chance of that. They had a tough ask last time out, playing Chelmsford in back-to-back games and being defeated in both as expected. However the away game in Chelmsford saw captain Nick Alley score a hat-trick and Matthew Hepburn bag two goals, as the Lions put in a far better performance than the previous night’s home defeat.
If the Lions can bring a similar level of performance as they did in the away game in Chelmsford, they will feel confident of taking at least a point back home with them from Swindon. It should be a tight game.
Don’s Prediction: Swindon 4-5 Lee Valley (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Swindon 2-3 Lee Valley
Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Oxford City Stars
Oxford City make the trip to Wales to face Cardiff in an important game for both clubs as the season draws to a close.
Cardiff (8 wins/12 regulation losses, 16 points) are in the unenviable position of “the outside looking in,” sitting in 10th place, three points behind Haringey in eighth. The Fire do have three games in hand, but they have plenty of tough games coming up against some top teams in the league. They’ll probably need to win all of the somewhat easier games on their schedule—two against Swindon and a crucial clash against Haringey—to make the playoffs. An upset victory over the Stars would ease the pressure extensively. But the Fire played away to Oxford City just a month ago and were defeated heavily, 8-1. Last week Cardiff were beaten 6-1 by another former South 1 team, so a win over the Stars might be a stretch too far.
Oxford City (21 wins/2 regulation losses, 42 points) would have been pleased to see Slough upset Bracknell last Saturday, but the Stars know that they still need to keep winning to make sure that they hold of the Hornets—and of course, second-place Solent! The Stars are just three points clear of Solent, who have a game in hand. And more importantly, those two sides meet each other in their final two games of the season! Those results will likely decide the league, especially if both sides keep winning. Oxford have a seven-game winning run, and have only lost twice this season—interestingly, both times to Bracknell. The Stars haven’t played since 25 February, though, and worryingly for Oxford fans, they barely held off 13th-placed Swindon.
But regardless of how Oxford get on in those two games against Solent, this weekend’s game seems to a given. On paper, Oxford are heavy favourites, although nothing is ever for certain.
Don’s Prediction: Cardiff 3-9 Oxford
Laurence’s Prediction: Cardiff 3-10 Oxford
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Bracknell Hornets
Probably the biggest game of the weekend takes place on Sunday as the Bracknell Hornets look to recover from last weekend’s OT defeat in Slough as they take on the Phantoms in Peterborough.
Peterborough (15 wins/7 regulation losses) bounced back from their own defeat to Slough in style last weekend, beating Guildford 6-4 and all but sewing up fifth place in the league as the “best of the rest” behind the four ex-NIHL1 clubs. Two goals for Clint Herring and one each for Kenny Bavin, Bradley Moore, Conor Pollard and 16-year old Bradley Bowering saw the Phantoms take a big win over their direct rivals for fifth place. They can still mathematically make it as high as third in the league, but fifth seems more likely given the form of the sides ahead of them.
Bracknell (18 wins/1 OT loss/1 regulation loss, 37 points) lost in overtime to the Slough Jets last weekend, in what was only their second defeat of the season. Given the respective league positions of the sides, it has to go down as a shock result, although Slough are pretty much unbeatable at home right now so the Hornets will hope the defeat was a “one-off” and will try to move on quickly. They still have a good chance of taking the title, with three games in hand over leaders Oxford and a five point deficit, but they absolutely cannot afford any more Slough-style slip-ups if they want to take the coveted crown come the end of the season. And a game away at Peterborough is not the easiest task, as the Hornets’ tight 5-3 home win over the Phantoms back in January shows.
The Phantoms are no longer playing for the league title themselves, but they could play a big role in determining where the title goes, should they beat the Hornets in this game. It should be a pretty close one, whichever way it goes.
Don’s Prediction: Peterborough 2-3 Bracknell (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Peterborough 3-5 Bracknell
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bristol Pitbulls
Chelmsford versus Bristol: The Sequel is upon us, as the Pitbulls visit the Chieftains looking for another upset win over their Essex opponents.
Chelmsford (18 wins/5 regulation losses, 34 points) have solidified their position in fourth place, but they will be looking up at Bracknell (only one point ahead but three games in hand) and wondering if they can somehow take third. Even if that’s a remote chance, the Chieftains don’t want to coast into the playoffs. They have a nine-game winning run and they’ll want to stay unbeaten for the rest of the regular season. Considering that in that run of nine games, no opponent has managed to lose by less than five goals, Chelmsford seem to be in pretty good shape.
But what about Bristol? Earlier on, we pointed out that they need to win on Saturday and desperately needed an upset (or two) to make the playoffs. Well, last time they played the Chieftains, way back in November, they won 3-1. So the Pitbulls will go into this game knowing that they have to win and they can win. But will they? Chelmsford seem pretty good to us…
Don’s Prediction: Chelmsford 7-5 Bristol
Laurence’s Prediction: Chelmsford 8-4 Bristol
17:00 Solent Devils vs Haringey Huskies
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Invicta Mustangs
18:00 Slough Jets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Lee Valley Lions
18:30 Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Oxford City Stars
17:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Bracknell Hornets
18:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bristol Pitbulls
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
High and low indicate highest and lowest possible finishing position in the league
We’ll have updates on scores and scorers from all the games as we get the information. Going to a game? We’d love to know what’s happening – tweet us @482days with your updates!
Looking for info on the NIHL1 games? You can find the NIHL1 South weekend preview HERE.
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