Monday 1 April 2024

Match Report: Solihull Barons v Widnes Wild (Moralee Play Offs Q/F)

Harrison Walker in the Widnes goal against Solihull in the home leg of the Play Off Quarter Final (Photo by Keith & Jenny Davies)

Saturday 30th March – Moralee Play Offs QF: Widnes Wild 2 – Solihull Barons 5

Sunday 31st March – Moralee Play Offs QF: Solihull Barons 7 – Widnes Wild 4

The Widnes Wild NIHL team bowed out of the Moralee Play Offs at the quarter final stage after back to back defeats to Solihull Barons at the weekend, losing 2-5 at home on Saturday and 7-4 away on Sunday.

Having struggled all season long with consistency, and coming into the weekend on the back of a string of defeats, this two legged tie against the league runners up was always going to be a bit of an uphill struggle for the plucky Wild team and, in the end, despite some spirited performances, the results went the way of league form.   

In the home game on Saturday, Solihull took the lead in the 6th minute and the score remained 0-1 at the first period break.  Popular Wild enforcer Will Harper got into penalty trouble early in the second period and earned himself a 5 minutes plus game penalty for fighting. This meant that Widnes had to play a man down for a full 5 minutes and the ensuing Solihull pressure resulted in a powerplay goal for the visitors.

While the Wild weren’t playing badly, their chances on goal were few and far between and, when they did come, they weren’t able to take full advantage. Solihull outshot Widnes by a massive 26 to 3 in the second period and, were netminder Harrison Walker not in such fine form, the score would probably have been a lot higher than the 0-2 that it was at the second interval.

A third goal for Solihull three minutes into the third period – scored by former Widnes import Dani Haid – edged the Barons further ahead and then a second goal from the same player 4 minutes later effectively put the game out of the Wild’s reach. 

The Yellow Camp did eventually get something to cheer about in the 50th minute when Kyle Carruth scored the opening Widnes goal of the game and then Nathan Britton narrowed the deficit to just 2 with a strike on 57 minutes.

Any hopes of a late Widnes rally were dashed, however, as Solihull hit back with their 5th goal – a second of the night for Finnish player Filip Byf√§lt – just 24 seconds later, and that rounded off the scoring for the game. 

With a three-goal deficit to overcome in the away game on Sunday in order to have any chance of getting through to the semi finals, Widnes had to be quick out of the blocks and that is exactly what happened.

A goal from Kyle Carruth in the 4th minute of play fired the Wild into an early lead – a copy of the rare “Michigan” goal that he scored in a GB Under 18 international back in December - and the same player shocked the home crowd further into silence with a second strike just 21 seconds later.  

Solihull had most of the play in the first period, outshooting Widnes by 15 to 7, and this pressure eventually paid off with a Barons goal on 15 minutes.  The score remained Solihull 1 – Widnes 2 at the first period break (ie 6-4 on aggregate) and the Wild were clearly not giving up hope.

The second period saw much of the same with Solihull outshooting Widnes by a massive 25 to 6 but the next goal fell to the Wild when player coach Joey Coulter extended the lead to 1-3 on 27 minutes.

90 seconds later, Carruth fired in his hat-trick goal and, against all reasonable expectations, the Wild suddenly found themselves level on aggregate!

Solihull visibly upped their game after this and pulled a goal back on 31 minutes – edging themselves back into the lead over the two legs.

Just two minutes later, the Barons were awarded a rare penalty shot after the Moralee Division’s top goal scorer Niklas Ottoson was tripped on a breakaway, preventing a clear goalscoring opportunity. Logan Reid in the Widnes goal saved the resulting one-on-one attempt but the match referee wasn’t happy and ordered it to be retaken.  The second attempt was successful and Solihull pulled the score back to 3-4 on the night and 8-6 overall.

Solihull took control after this and two unanswered goals in the latter stages of the period saw them leading 5-4 at the second interval.

The third period saw Solihull once again outshoot the plucky Wild by 25 to 3 and they added two more goals to their tally on 50 and 52 minutes, including a hat trick strike for Ottoson.  Widnes were unable to find the back of the net again and the score finished 7-4 on the night to the Barons and 12-6 on aggregate.

Wild netminder Logan Reid deserves special credit for keeping out an impressive 58 of the 65 shots that he faced over the 60 minutes.

The weekend results mean that Widnes, sadly miss out on the Play Off finals weekend for the third season in a row, having also lost out to Solihull at the quarter final stage last season and Billingham Stars the year before. This will be disappointing for Wild fans of long standing who will recall that they qualified for the play off weekend every season prior to the Covid disruptions and won three titles in a row from 2017 to 2019. 

To be fair, that was - of course - in the lower Laidler Division (North 2) where the Wild were arguably a bigger fish in a smaller pond and where the top four finishers in the league automatically qualified for the finals weekend.  Playing in a higher division against superior opposition week in week out and then having to negotiate a quarter-final round seeded by league places does make qualification for the final four that bit more of a challenge.

The Moralee Play Off semi finals and final will take place at iceSheffield this Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th April.

The other quarter final ties saw league champions Billingham Stars beat Nottingham Lions 10-1 over two legs, Blackburn Hawks beat Hull Jets 8-4 and Whitley Warriors beat Deeside Dragons 13-9. Billingham will play Whitley in the first semi final at 1pm on Saturday and Solihull take on Blackburn at 8pm.