Raiders inflicted defeat at home on Milton Keynes Lightning for the first time since mid-December with a late goal to ensure a 4-3 win at Planet Ice on Saturday.
The visitors have been on a relatively rich vein of form in recent weeks with three of their seven league victories have come in January and their latest success came despite being outshot 40-26 as Lightning failed to find to convert chances into goals.
Former head coach Nick Poole attending to join the commemorations for Lewis Christie’s 500th appearance for the team will have been disappointed to see his former club – and the player he recruited from Belfast Giants in 2008 – on the losing end.
However MK still remained in the mix in the top three of the National Ice Hockey League with fellow contenders Telford Tigers also losing while Swindon Wildcats edged one point ahead at the head of the table.
Lightning lacked energy early in the game and Raiders struck first when Jake Sylvester sent Aaron Connelly away. He was allowed to go straight up centre ice to beat goalie Matt Smital on 12mins 2secs.
The hosts’ plight became worse a few minutes later when Raiders made it 2-0. This time MK’s Sean Norris was turned over as he reached the offensive blue line, allowing Ollie Baldock to go clear with Jacob Ranson, acting as decoy, possibly obscuring Smital’s vision at 16mins 29secs.
Sam Talbot’s pass from the right was turned in by Bobby Chamberlain 3mins 9secs from the first break, to give the home side hope as the period ended 2-1 in favour of Raiders.
The opening minute of the middle session almost brought an equaliser for MK when Talbot broke up the centre only to fire wide before Baldock tested Smital. Talbot, Norris and Chamberlain tried to pile on the pressure with a trio of quick shots on goalie Ethan James, all without success.
The leveller did come though on 24mins 19secs when Adam Laishram fired through James’ legs on the rebound from a shot by Russ Cowley. At this stage MK appeared to be increasing their influence on the play and that effort was to produce rewards.
JJ Pitchley was called for tripping on 29mins 59secs, giving MK a powerplay from which Liam Stewart’s behind the goal line pass was blasted in first time by Talbot at 30mins 56secs.
Despite that Lightning were unable to make the most of the momentum and they led by just the one goal at the second break. It was not sufficient as Clifford’s men were unable to add to the tally in opening minutes of the final session – Stewart going coast to coast, but having his shot saved by James while Talbot was twice unsuccessful.
Almost predictably it was Raiders who were able to tie things up when Sylvester’s diagonal pass forward found Lukas Sladovsky to make it 3-3 at 45mins 34secs.
In the last quarter of an hour Raiders began to tighten their grip on the game – increasingly shoring up the area in front of goal, forcing Lightning’s attacks wide as James was able to deal with any threat.
With 3mins 58secs remaining Sylvester split the Lightning defence as he was allowed go up the centre to fire past Smital for the game winning goal.
A timeout by Lightning resulted in Smital being withdrawn for the extra skater with a minute remaining but the home side could not find the equaliser to send the game into overtime.