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Match Report: Leeds Knights 7 – 6 Hexagon Telford Tigers

Hexagon Telford Tigers faced off in the second semi final of the Final Four at Coventry.

Tigers had qualified for the semi final by knocking out second seed Milton Keynes in the Quarter Final and their ‘reward” was a tie against National League winners Leeds Knights for a place in the final the following day.

Tigers were without Jack Watkins who was injured in the semi final.

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Tigers’ Sam Watkins gave an ill advised tripping penalty away in the opening two minutes of the game handing Leeds an early power play. Kieron Brown’s shot from the left circle was initially ruled out by referee Truswell as he signalled that the shot did not go into the net but as Leeds players celebrated and skated away to restart the game, the officials conferred and gave the goal.

Tigers hit back straight away with a power play goal of their own. With Josh Hodgkinson serving a holding penalty, Vladimir Luka sent Brodie Jesson in on goal at a tight angle. Jesson hit a superb shot over Sam Gospel’s shoulder into the roof of the net to draw the sides level.

Rory Herrman looked dangerous every time he got the puck but Gospel was equal to him on a couple of occasions.

Poor defending allowed Leeds to go back in front. With Tigers caught out making a line change, Matt Haywood was allowed a free shot at goal and beat Brad Day with a low wrist shot.

Leeds went further in front in the fifteenth minute when Jake Witkowski had far too much time and space and beat Day with a shot from the slot that went over the Tigers’ netminder’s glove to give the league champions a two goal lead at the break.

At the start of the second period, Day was called on to make a crucial save and shortly after, Tigers pulled a goal back. A Ricky Plant shot hit Gospel’s pads and rebounded up into the air. Scott McKenzie was perfectly placed to bat the puck into the open net. Two minutes later Telford were level. With Haywood serving a boarding penalty, Fin Howells found Luka unmarked in the right circle. Luka hit a trademark slap shot through Gospel into the net.

Things got even better three minutes later as Telford took the lead. Howells sent Luka clear on goal and with Gospel advancing out of goal, Luka smashed the puck past him low to his left.

Leeds stepped up the pressure and equalised, Archie Hazeldine banked the puck in off Day from behind the goal to draw the sides level.

With two minutes of the period left, Leeds gained some significant fortune as an errant pass deflected into the path of Cole Shudra allowing him to break in on goal and shoot past Day to put Leeds back ahead.

The Knights were given a power play early in the third period when Fin Howells was called for boarding.

A long range shot was saved by Day but Mac Howlett was on hand to force home the rebound at the second attempt to put Leeds two goals ahead.

But, Tigers never gave up and struck back within two minutes. Danny Rose’s shot from distance was expertly tipped past Gospel by McKenzie for his second of the game to halve the deficit.

With ten minutes left, Tigers were level again. Great battling behind the Leeds goal by Howells saw him win the puck and send it in front where Luka was positioned to smash the puck past Gospel for his hat trick.

With the game heading towards the late stages, Leeds struck what proved to be the winner as Brown broke away on goal and shot low past Day to put Leeds ahead for the final time.

Tigers pulled Day from goal for the final minute of the game but could not score the goal that was needed to send the game to overtime.

The season ends with a credible performance against the league champions and a superb effort from the whole team, despite the defeat.

Final Score: Leeds Knights 7 Hexagon Telford Tigers 6,

Scorers: Vladimir Luka (3), Scott McKenzie (2) and Brodie Jesson.

Man of the match: Vladimir Luka.

After the game Head Coach Tom Watkins, commented, “It was a tough game to lose, a very close game in a semi final. I’ll take time to review the performance and evaluate the game at a later date. But right now I have a sense of pride in the steps we’ve made as a team since Christmas to be in the semi final and to compete as well as we did.

“We took the league champions, the best in the league, very very close. To come back from two goals behind in the first period to winning the second period and then taking the lead showed the fight in this team. Sadly we are not playing in the final but as a team we pushed the best all the way and we finish a difficult season knowing we made some big steps forward.

“The whole team dug deep, bought into the way we wanted to play and believed we could win and we were so close to doing that. It has been a long season and now is the time to take stock of everything and start planning for next season.

“I’d like to thank all the fans that came and backed us in Coventry, their support throughout the game was magnificent.”

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