WIDNES Wild gave their fans a welcome early Christmas present with back-to-back wins over Bradford Bulldogs at the weekend that put them in a commanding position at the top of the Laidler Division table in the run up to the festive period, Paul Breeze writes.

The Wild won 1-5 away in Bradford on Saturday and then beat them 9-2 at Planet Ice Widnes on Sunday to extend their winning run to 14 games in a row. Widnes are now 9 points clear at the top of the league table, although the chasing pack do have games in hand over them.

The previous meetings between these two sides this season had both been very close encounters with Widnes needing an overtime goal to win the home game 7-6 in September and then have to come from behind to win 3-5 away in October - so both teams had high expectations going into this weekend.

In the game on Saturday in Bradford, the Wild took the lead after just 100 seconds of play with a goal from Czech forward Michal Novak and he added a second 10 minutes later with what would eventually turn out to be the game winning goal – although nobody knew that at the time.

Widnes peppered the Bradford goal with shots during the first period out-shooting their hosts by 21 to 5 and netminder Harrison Walker – who has been playing with the Blackburn Hawks in the higher Moralee Division this season – did a good job in keeping all but 2 of them out.

The Bulldogs did better in the second period, narrowly out-shooting Widnes by 11 to 10 but they were unable to get past Matt Croyle in the Wild net. Mikey Gilbert put Widnes 0-3 a head with a goal in 25th minute and the score remained 0-3 at the second break.

The Wild’s Scott Cooper extended the lead to 4 with a goal in the 48th minute and then Bradford scored their first of the game some four minutes later.

Widnes player coach Ollie Barron rounded off the scoring with a powerplay goal, with just over 2 minutes left on the clock and the Wild came home with a well-deserved 1-5 victory.

The game at Widnes on Sunday certainly had a festive feel off the ice with a visit by Santa Claus, sweets for the children and a competition for the best festively-dressed family but the peace and goodwill on the ice had to wait until the final buzzer.

As with the game the night before, Widnes took an early lead through a Danny Bullock goal in the 8th minute and went 2-0 up courtesy of Shaun Dippnall just four minutes later.

With a 2-0 lead at the first break and the Wild comfortably ahead on shots on goal, all seemed to be going well but then Bradford scored with their first attack of the second period.

A powerplay goal from Michal Novak put Widnes 3-1 ahead on 28 minutes but Bradford hit back again at the midway point of the game to pull the score back to 3-2.

The whole complexion of the game then changed as the Bulldogs picked up a stream of penalties that left them shorthanded and on the back foot. This all culminated in a mass altercation at 36.42 on the clock that saw the Wild’s Jakub Hajek sent to the penalty box for 6 minutes and Daniel Fay for 4.

Bradford players were also similarly banished with coincidental minor penalties but one of the instigators was handed a game penalty for resisting an official and this meant that the Bulldogs had to play with a man short for the next five minutes.

The Wild scored two goals during this five minute powerplay - Tom Jackson on 37 minutes and then Michal Novak 90 seconds later – and that pretty much put the game to bed with 20 minutes still to play.

The third period was all Widnes with the Wild out-shooting Bradford by 23 to 8.

Four more goals came in just 9 minutes – from captain Simon Offord, Mikey Gilbert, Jakub Hajek and Chris Gee – and the home side were able to see out 2018 in winning form.

After the weekend’s games, Wild player coach Ollie Barron said: “This was a hard fought 4-point weekend and we knew we would have to work hard this weekend, facing Bradford away on Saturday and at home on Sunday. Saturday’s away fixture was a well-disciplined team performance. The Bradford rink is a difficult place to go and we know that Bradford are a physical team, but we got off to a great start and worked hard for each other for a full 60 minutes.”

“Sunday’s game at home, again, we worked very hard as a team. Our power play worked very well to put away some vital goals and our scoring was spread across the team - which is very pleasing.”

“We now have a couple of weeks off to enjoy the Christmas break and will come back in January and prepare for the rest of season. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all the Wild fans and volunteers."

The Wild are next in action on Sunday 6 January when they renew their Laidler Division title challenge with a trip away to Blackburn Hawks 2.

The following Saturday they are away to Coventry NIHL Blaze before welcoming current second placed team Sheffield Senators for the first Laidler Division home game of 2019 at Planet Ice Widnes on Sunday 13 January.