Inconsistent Lightning continue to slide

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Lightning are now facing a race against time to escape finishing eighth in the English Premier League - with the consequent quarter final play-off match up with champions-elect Telford Tigers.

This year more than ever before the city outfit need to move up the table to avoid meeting the top placed team.

Few would bet against Telford who- with their recently acquired wealth - are unlikely to be beaten, on aggregate, over the two legged game in late March.

In reality the omens of Lightning elevating themselves are not good. For the past six seasons, at least, the team in eighth spot at the end of January has never finished higher than that come the campaign’s conclusion. Indeed on three occasions the ninth place side has overtaken them by the end of the season.

Nick Poole’s men will be hoping to capitalise on the three games in hand they have over Sheffield Steeldogs in seventh spot.

Whatever the eventual outcome Lightning remained on course for their worst ever league finish with double defeats at the hands of Basingstoke Bison and Swindon Wildcats at the weekend.

On Saturday they were just edged out 5-4 by Bison in Hampshire while on Sunday they were outclassed by the superior finishing of Swindon Wildcats who won 6-3 at MK Arena.

The loss against Wildcats was all the more hard to take for Lightning fought back from a 3-1 deficit at the end of the second period to draw level within the opening three minutes of the third session before the visitors roared away with three unanswered goals.

Aaron Nell set up Jan Kostal to put Wildcats in front after 3mins 24secs before Grant McPherson almost caught out Swindon’s netminder, Steve Lyle, a few minutes later. Lewis Hook then had a fine effort on the turn while, at the other end, Floyd Taylor tested goalie Jordan Hedley with a long range effort.

A poor powerplay by the hosts after Swindon were penalised for having too many men on the ice ensured the score remained 1-0 to the Wiltshire side at the first break.

That changed within 1min 22secs of the start of the second period when Ross Bowers crossed from the right for Leigh Jamieson to rifle home a shot for the equaliser.

But Swindon soon held the upper hand again - taking just 36 seconds to score through a Kostal assisted goal by Nell.

Another powerplay opportunity for Lightning came and went with no goal - the best chance seeing Chris Wiggins far too slow to cross to Milan Kostourek in space.

Adam Harding added to Lightning’s woes when he was supplied by Tom Rutkis for his team’s third goal 1min 15secs before the second intermission. Suddenly fears of another big Wildcats victory to match their 11-3 trouncing of the home side in December came to mind.

However the talented Kostourek began to clear that worry from home fans’ minds when he took Ross Green’s pass to unleash a blue line rocket to make it 3-2 only 16 seconds after the restart.

And when he added his second at 42mins 47secs hopes were raised - particularly as Lyle appeared to have made the save, only for the puck to trickle over the line.

Sloppy play in the neutral zone allowed Jonas Hoog to gain possession and skate away unimpeded to put Wildcats back in front at 48mins 1secs.

Harding bagged his second to extend Wildcats’ lead on 54mins 55secs while promising youngster Rutkis rounded off the visitors tally at 58mins 23secs.

A day earlier Lightning matched their Bison opponents for most of the first half of the game in Hampshire but then saw it slip away from them as Basingstoke established a two goal lead.

Aaron Connolly opened Bison’s account with a powerplay goal scored after 13mins 37secs while Adam Carr was sitting out a tripping penalty.

Lightning replied with 28 seconds remaining of the first period - Hook on target with a powerplay strike.

Bison took 1min 13secs of the middle period to re-establish their lead - once more Connolly was the man on target. But just over a minute later the visitors were level again with Blaz Emersic the scorer.

Next Saturday Lightning face Manchester Phoenix at MK Arena at 7pm before going to Sheffield Steeldogs on Sunday.

A pair of Joe Greener goals at 25mins 41secs and 27mins 22secs put Bison in control for the first time only for Lightning to gain some hope when Lewis Christie supplied Carr to register at 39mins 18secs.

The good work was undone though with 1min 11secs of the third period gone when Tomas Karpov beat Hedley for Bison’s fifth goal.

Although Jamieson managed a fourth strike for Lightning at 55mins 35secs it was not enough to turn the outcome of the game around.