TWO Widnes Wild defeats at the weekend means they will be battling to try and get the top spot back when they face Coventry Blaze at Silver Blades on Sunday, face-off 5.30pm.

Widnes, who went into the weekend looking down on the rest, are now third in a thrilling National Ice Hockey League North Laidler Division Two campaign that sees the top five separated by just two points.

Sunday’s 4-2 home loss to Bradford Bulldogs came hot on the heels of defeat at Sutton Sting by the same scoreline.

Stuart Brittle and Kyle Haslam hit the target at Sutton, Danny Bullock and Nick Manning against Bulldogs.

Wild will be feeling particularly disappointed with Sunday’s loss, having had more than double the amount of shots on target and suffered 83 percent less penalties than their opponents.

The weekend had started in a positive mood with the announcement of two signings, with Geoff Wigglesworth returning to the team after a stint playing for Deeside Dragons and Barry Sprakes formally signing as netminder cover for the rest of the season.

The game away to title rivals Sutton Sting on Saturday saw Wild heavily out-shot throughout and they went behind just 90 seconds into the game when a speculative long shot from the blueline beat the Widnes defence and netminder Matt Croyle.

The score remained 1-0 at the first break and Sutton went 2-0 ahead on 23 minutes, leaving Widnes with a lot to do.

The Wild breakthrough finally came in the 39th minute when Kyle Haslam scored Widnes’ opener and a short-handed-goal by Stuart Brittle in the 47th minute – while defenceman Andrew Turner was sitting out a hooking penalty – pulled them level.

However the Widnes fightback stalled at that point and Sutton retook the lead just 47 seconds later with a powerplay goal on the same penalty.

Wild pushed hard to try and drag themselves back into the game but the Sutton defence held strong and the clock ticked down.

With a minute left to play, Widnes pulled netminder Croyle in favour of an extra attacker but the move backfired and Sutton rounded off the scoring with an empty-net goal from their new import signing Stanislas Lascek, who has played over 160 EPL matches with Milton Keynes Lightning and Hull Pirates and looks a useful acquisition for the title run in.

With the top four teams in the Laidler Division all tied on 34 points overnight on Saturday, the home game against Bradford Bulldogs took on an even greater significance than the usual passionate encounter.

Wild dominated the play for long periods and out-shot the visitors by a huge margin but, once again, they were caught out by an early goal as the Bulldogs took a surprise lead in the 4th minute.

Widnes had their chances but a resolute Bradford defence kept them out and the score remained 0-1 at the first period break.

Wild upped their game and out-shot the Bulldogs by almost 2 to 1 in the second period and the outcome of the entire contest was actually decided during a frenetic 3-minute period leading up to the halfway stage of the match.

Bullock equalised for Widnes at 27.10 but any hopes of building on that and taking a lead were dashed when the Bulldogs hit back with two quick-fire goals at 27.34 and 27.50.

A further goal from Bradford on 30.40 put them 1-4 ahead and, while Manning pulled a goal back for Widnes with 80 seconds left in the period, alarm bells were beginning to ring in the Wild camp.

Widnes threw the kitchen sink at the Bradford goal in the final period, firing an incredible 37 shots in 20 minutes but the Bulldogs netminder Philip Pearson stopped them all.

Bradford picked up numerous penalties as they battled to keep the Wild attack at bay but Widnes were unable to make the extra man pay on their powerplay opportunities – with the Bulldogs even managing to successfully defend 5 on 3 for almost 2 minutes which, on any other occasion, would have been a home banker.

The resulting 2-4 home defeat was the Wild’s second loss to Bradford this season.

Meabwhile, Widnes-based Halton Huskies recreational team played out an entertaining challenge game against the Hull-based Kingston City Knights at Silver Blades Widnes on Sunday night.

The game finished 4-6 to the visitors and, despite the two teams racking up a whopping total of 96 penalty minutes between them, was played in fine spirit throughout and was a good all-round advert for recreational ice hockey.

Kingston took the lead after just 55 seconds and built up a 0-3 lead by the end of the first period.

The Huskies scored their first goal after 24 minutes with a fine solo effort by James Kelly.

A hat-trick goal for the Kingston captain Scott Hayward restored the three-goal cushion but it only lasted a matter of seconds before Edward Ridding pulled a goal back for Huskies.

Two more goals late in the period gave Knights a 2-6 lead heading into the second break and third-period goals from Kelly, again, and Jeff Chapman-Watson for Halton gave the score a more respectable look.