Lightning blown away as title hopes fade

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MK LIGHTNING’S title challenge suffered a major setback when they were outplayed and outwitted in their biggest home defeat for well over a year as they crashed 5-1 to Basingstoke Bison on Saturday.

They simply had no answer – part from an unassisted Michael Wales goal – to a four goal middle period onslaught from the visitors. In the end they ran out of ideas and inspiration in how to even get decent shots on goal.

Now Lightning will be looking to quickly put the wheels back on the wagon with a tough week ahead of them. On Saturday they entertain third in the table Manchester Phoenix while on Sunday they go to league leaders Guildford Flames.

And on Wednesday Nick Poole’s men go to Sheffield Steeldogs for the first leg of the English Premier League Cup semi final.

Rarely have Lightning looked as poor as they did from the start of the second period onwards in their only game of the weekend.

New Finnish import Tuomas Tikkanen made his debut on the left wing and showed some good touches, but there was clearly a lack of understanding with his line mates, Blaz Emersic and Leigh Jamieson at times.

The first period was a fairly even affair with neither side really able to make much of a breakthrough. Lightning had the first powerplay when Daniel Volrab was penalised for slashing in the third minute but they were unable to make any impression.

At even strength Matt Towalski had a couple of decent stabs at goal while Wales lost control of the puck at the crucial moment after doing all the hard work. And it was while Wales was serving time in the sin bin in the 16th minute that Marcel Petran went closest for Bison – his effort hitting the pipework.

Bison were quickest off the mark when the second period got under way, breaking the deadlock after just 20 seconds when Lightning failed to pick up Ollie Bronnimann who was given a free reign on the left to fire past goalie Alex Mettam.

Buoyed by this Volrab and Joe Miller both forced good saves from Mettam before a slashing penalty on Lewis Christie gave the visitors a powerplay.

It was Bronnimann again who was the scorer with the man advantage, taking Nicky Chinn’s set up to score on 27mins 9secs.

But Wales’ response was swift – with his determination forcing the puck home only 52 seconds later. The look on his face after he scored said it all – unfortunately his team mates were less focused.

Two quick penalties saw Towalski and Chris Wiggins clash – the home player sin binned for two minutes for roughing and the Bison man for cross-checking. Lukas Zatopek then seemed to be provoked by Joe Miller but the Czech failed to respond. Despite that both were given time for delaying the game.

Bison extended their lead soon afterwards when Volrab turned in Miller’s pass from the right at 34mins 38secs.

What really proved the game deciding goal came after Christie was sent to the penalty box again – this time for roughing – with Bison making the most of the powerplay as Sam Oakford converted Steve Moria’s pass on 36mins 33secs.

From then on there wasn’t really any way back for Lightning who were outshot by an incredible 24 shots to 11 in the second period alone.

Bison eased up on offence a little in the third session as they saw no need to expose their defence – especially as Lightning had by that time almost given up hope of getting any further goals, let alone turning the game around.

Petran had a good effort turned away by Mettam after 45 mins, with Poole having his effort saved by Stephen Wall a minute later.

It was all academic though when Miller found Moria in too much space and the 50 year old had plenty of time to pick his spot past Mettam on 48mins exactly.

A late penalty for interference on Bison’s Daniel Harris left Lightning fans wondering if the hosts really were on the powerplay they were so ineffective.

This defeat may be put down to a bad day at the office – but too many more will certainly end any lingering hopes Lightning have of taking the league title. They go into their tough weekend schedule sitting fifth in the table and six points adrift of Guildford.