Nottingham had already defeated runaway leaders, Solihull Barons as well as Deeside and Coventry on their own rink. A big crowd assembled for this game, many coming through from the earlier Elite League game in the neighbouring arena.
The game got off to a sensational start with a Widnes goal in just 5 seconds. From the face off, Widnes attacked and Daniel Bracegirdle fired home past Alan Levers – with the netminder apparently ‘screened’ by a defenceman. One of the quickest goals on record prompted a marvellous end to end contest which hung in the balance until the final buzzer.
Both sides launched waves of attack, with the Lions keen not to fall further behind. The equaliser came in the 15th minute when American forward, Luke Branin, fired an angled shot into the right corner of the net. Both netminders were repeatedly brought into action, making vital saves to keep their teams in touch. Levers made three remarkable consecutive saves in the 17th minute as Widnes pressed and at the other end, the in form Steven Gilmartin, made a great glove save with the puck destined for the top left corner.
The second period went the way of the home side. In the 22nd minute big Wild defenceman Tony Melbourne took a holding penalty adding to five minutes of incessant pressure on the Widnes net. The pressure was relieved when Shaun Dipnall broke clear for Wild and tested Levers with a great angled shot. When Nottingham’s Reece Glossop took a 2 plus 10 penalty for roughing and misconduct in the 29th minute, Caunce and Roberts combined well to bring a big save from Levers. Nottingham chanced their arm and in a breakaway raid, Dan Hazeldine took the one on one opportunity when shorthanded to fire high past Gilmartin to give the Lions a lead. Despite some good constructive attacking play from the visitors, the final pass was often wayward. As the period drew to a close, first Ben Brown on the left and a Callum Ruddick shot from the blue line almost brought the equaliser. With shots at 13 – 7 in favour of the home side, the teams went to the dressing room with the Lions slightly on top in a close contest.
The final period saw the visitors in determined mood and when Bobby Caunce broke clear, a clever final deke from the star centreman almost beat Levers. Within a minute Wild were on the powerplay again and when Caunce’s fierce shot was blocked, Ben Brown took the rebound to shoot home the equaliser at 42.54. The goal fired the travelling fans, gathered opposite the Wild team bench. Defending short handed, when Melbourne took a delaying call, Wild suddenly broke out but Joe Charlton couldn’t quite manage to beat Levers.
With the game finely balanced, a touch of inspiration was needed and it came from new signing Geoff Wigglesworth. The former Manchester man put increasing pressure on the home defence, repeatedly blocking passes out of defence with energetic forechecking. He had arrived late in Nottingham due to work committments, but he proved to be the match winner. He put Wild ahead in the 51st minute on the powerplay – when Ruddick and Brown combined, Wigglesworth lost his marker at the far post to slot home from close range.
A defensive error and an intercepted pass saw Nottingham equalise with an angled shot from Connor Glossop in the 52nd minute.
With the game finely poised, netminder Gilmartin found Bobby Caunce who broke clear supported by Wigglesworth. A perfectly timed pass across the face of goal found saw the new signing hit a one timer into the net and give the visitors the lead. From the face off Nottingham broke clear and an outstanding leg save from Steve Gilmartin was needed to retain a hard earned lead. Both sides called a time out and with Nottingham withdrawing netminder Levers for another attacker, at 58.46, it was a frantic finale. Twice Wild broke clear and missed an empty net by inches. The welcome relief of the final buzzer prompted huge celebrations in the visiting camp, Wild overcoming a talented Lions team for the second time in a month. Netminder Steve Gilmartin was awarded the MVP. for an outstanding display and several matchwinning saves.
Head Coach, Mark Gillingham, enjoyed his first senior victory in Nottingham as either a player or coach and he praised the outstanding efforts of his team:
“I think this was the toughest win we’ve had in this strong run of form we’ve been on. We were a little bit out of sorts for two periods, but had worked hard enough to make sure we were still in with a chance going into the third, and knew one strong period could be enough, which is how it played out. Although Nottingham have been struggling a little bit as of late, it’s primarily been away from home, and they’ve beaten virtually everyone in Nottingham, so to travel to the East Midlands and pick up the win there is testament to how far we’ve come over the last few weeks. It’s going to be an even tougher game next week at Solihull, who have been by far and away the strongest team we’ve seen so far this season, but we will travel with confidence and we know that any team can be caught off guard in this league.”
Next Sunday, Wild travel to the Midlands again, to take on runaway league leaders Solihull Barons (18.00). The visitors will be hoping to reproduce the outstanding form which has led to four succesive victories.