Simon Hobbis in action. Picture by Nicky Craft.
WIGHTLINK Raiders were dealt a hammer blow last weekend as they lost two crunch matches in the NIHL Division 1 South — seriously threatening their position at the top of the table.
Double defeat to second-placed Chelmsford Chieftains and third-placed Invicta Dynamos has seen their lead cut to just one point with Chelmsford — with three games in hand — primed to pounce.
Invicta are also in contention, two points behind and with one game in hand.
Wightlink Raiders 3, Chelmsford Chieftains 4
Raiders were left reeling at Ryde Arena on Saturday night, when a controversial decision robbed them of a point against their main rivals for the league title, Chelmsford.
The Islanders faced plenty of early pressure from the Essex side, who dominated the early stages. Raiders exerted their physical strength on Chelmsford to try to force mistakes and it appeared to work. However, Chelmsford still looked threatening and they made the breakthrough when Daniel Volrab scored on the wraparound.
Two minutes later, Raiders produced an excellent reply when Steven Osman and Corey Watkins combined to release man of the match Richard Facey in front of net and he made no mistake.
Chelmsford regained the lead in the 12th minute, while on the powerplay, Ross Brears netting with a deceptive lob shot which had Matt Colclough fooled.
Then, just before the break, after Dan Pye had been penalised for tripping, James Ayling netted a third for Chelmsford.
Raiders started brightly in the middle session, pulling a goal back through Osman, Facey and Watkins assisting. They then had a great chance to equalise when Chelmsford incurred two penalties in quick succession, but wasted the opportunity.
Chelmsford made them pay just 70 seconds from the break, when Volrab scored his second.
Once again Raiders came back and narrowed the gap to one once more, when Jeremy Cornish slammed the puck home. And three minutes later there were scenes of jubilation when Osman appeared to net the equaliser. Chelmsford protested the goal and then, with no explanation the referee reversed his decision.
As the clock ticked down, Raiders tried and tried to score goal four again — pulling their goalkeeper and hitting the post twice — but it was not enough.
Invicta Dynamos 6, Wightlink Raiders 4
Raiders somehow relinquished a solid four-goal lead at Invicta’s Gillingham rink on Sunday night.
The Islanders made a great start with Facey scoring after only five minutes. Two goals from Matt Vizzari, the second shorthanded, put real space between the two sides, and when Watkins scored at 29.15, Raiders looked set for a clear run.
But Invicta had other ideas and, thanks to a string of powerplay opportunities, took a grip on the game.
They pulled one back two minutes after Watkins’s efforts, with a delayed penalty goal, before making it 4-2 at 33.47.
The final period saw Raiders concede more penalties and Invicta continue to pull back the deficit. Two powerplay goals levelled affairs and then, with less than three minutes on the clock, they scored while shorthanded.
Raiders, in a vain attempt to make it 5-5, pulled their goalkeeper but the gamble did not pay off, and they scored into the empty net with just 42 seconds remaining.
Tomorrow (Saturday), Raiders host the resurgent Streatham Redskins at Ryde Arena, face-off 6pm.