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After the agony came the ecstasy as Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning celebrated a hard won 4-3 win over Raiders at Romford’s Sapphire Leisure Centre on Sunday.

They did it despite being desperately short benched – icing just eight recognised forwards as James Griffin joined the list of the injured which numbered Russ Cowley, Grant McPherson and Jordan Lawday plus the suspended Harry Ferguson.  Milton Keynes Thunder’s Logan Prince was also given a start.

The morale boosting victory was all the more sweet as it came a day after the disappointment of being edged out by Bracknell Bees in a game Lightning had led until the final few seconds.  This time Lightning were off the mark as early as exactly four minutes when Ross Green’s coast to coast pass found its way to Leigh Jamieson who set up Ari Närhi for a top shelf shot to beat goalie Michael Gray.  In fact, it was an early sign of what turned out to be an excellent display from Närhi throughout the night, showing his usual pace going forward, but also backchecking and showing a more direct approach towards goal.

Romford were given a route back into the game on 8mins 12secs when Lewis Christie was caught slashing his opponent in a three on two Raiders attack. MK stopper Brandon Stones blocked one shot but couldn’t stop the rebounding effort from Marek Malinsky hitting the back of the net for the powerplay equaliser on 9mins 12secs.

It was not long before Lightning were given a man advantage when Mason Webster was sidelined for two minutes for a slash as Jamieson went through. Unfortunately the visitors could make nothing of the powerplay and they were soon penalised for having too many men on the ice as Nähri and Tomas Kana saw their shots come to nothing.

The hosts edged in front on the powerplay with a slapshot to inside the near post from Lukas Sladkovsky on 16mins 33secs to give Raiders a 2-1 advantage going into the first intermission.  Cracking end to end play and a good positivity from Lightning left the fans happy at the break.

MK started the second session with a powerplay resulting from an 18th minute call on Blahoslav Novak but nothing came of it and despite early chances for both sides the score remained unchanged until Närhi, set up by Jordan Stokes who shot from the blueline, tipped the puck into the goal for the equaliser on 27mins 18secs.

Moments later Jack Flynn was called for charging but Raiders’ penalty kill unit was able to see off the short-handed spell only to concede again when Tomas Kana was able to hold up the puck in the offensive zone long enough for Caly Robertson to arrive and plant it past Gray at 30mins 28secs.  A sweet finish from Caly who was busy all night.

There was no joy for Lightning though when Raiders were caught with too many men on the ice in the 34th minute with the hosts then punishing Lewis Clifford’s men on the powerplay after Cale Tanaka was found guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct for shooting the puck after the whistle had been blown.  Cale sat for two whilst Michael Gray who left the crease to go after Tanaka was let off. Dan Scott brought the home side level at 37mins 2secs to make the score 3-3 at the second break.

After outshooting Raiders 15-10 in the second session MK sought to keep up the pressure in the final stretch and they were quickly afforded a powerplay when Webster was sent to the cooler for a check to the head of Robertson – 2+10 being the call.  MK were kept at bay with Raiders a man short but the deadlock was eventually broken after Novak was consigned to the sin bin in 53rd minute for hooking. Tanaka’s effort was blocked but Rio Grinell-Parke was there to follow up to make it 4-3 to Lightning at 54mins 22secs.  The Barmy Army went crazy and the nailbiting began.

And unlike the previous night it was a lead Clifford’s army were not going to surrender despite Raiders taking off Gray for the extra skater with 1min 22secs to go and desperately trying to find another equaliser.  Lightning held strong to cap off a fantastic night’s performance full of character and zing.  Hats off to all the players, with particular shouts going to Jordan Stokes who was immense in D, Tomas Kana who was end to end, and Ari Närhi who showed us all what he’s made of with a 2 goal haul.  Well done to you all.

Man of the match: Caly Robertson.

Photo: Tony Sargent