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Pitchley treble lifts London Raiders to play-off win

PUBLISHED: 20:18 25 March 2017 | UPDATED: 20:18 25 March 2017

London Raiders forward JJ Pitchley on the attack (pic John Scott)

London Raiders forward JJ Pitchley on the attack (pic John Scott)

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London Raiders 4 Oxford City Stars 2

JJ Pitchley’s hat-trick helped London Raiders recover from an early two-goal deficit to beat Oxford in the first leg of their National League play-off at Lee Valley.

The hosts looked up against it as they fell 2-0 down inside eight minutes, but Marek Nahlik halved the deficit in the middle period, before Pitchley struck three times to give his side hope of advancing to the semi-finals.

Raiders took to the ice without Matt France and saw Pitchley’s early shot deflected over the crossbar by Mark Duffy in a strong start.

But Oxford opened the scoring from their first attack of the night as Jason Ikin’s shot from the point beat Euan King inside three minutes.

Alan Lack was called for charging soon after, but Marek Nahlik had a chance while Raiders were shorthanded as he raced clear and forced a blocker save from Duffy.

The visitors doubled their lead in the eighth minute, though, as Alan Green freed the puck from the boards and Josh Oliver fired home.

King denied Mike Whillock’s wraparound attempt as Raiders came under more pressure, before Ikin and Brandon Miles tussled behind the home net and Oxford earned another powerplay chance.

The penalty-killers did their job well, though, and Green was given a hooking penalty, but Raiders were unable to capitalise and then saw a Nahlik shot blocked by Ikin and Pitchley foiled by Duffy.

Ben Paynter was called for slashing late in the opening period and the home side made their extra man count after the restart as Pitchley and Tom Davis combined and Nahlik fired home a rebound.

But Julian Smith was denied by a goalline clearance from point-blank range, before Oxford’s Hallam Wilson was called for hooking Thomas Beesley.

Slavomir Buda had a couple of chances during the powerplay, but Duffy held firm until Brendan Baird was given a tripping penalty and Pitchley fired home at the far post following Nahlik’s shot to level.

That set up a tense final period and Buda was unable to take an early chance at the far post, swinging and missing at a looping puck, during a cagey opening five minutes.

Raiders took the lead soon after, though, as Pitchley hacked the puck past Duffy while prone on the ice, as Oxford’s defence failed to clear the danger.

And the home side began to enjoy the edge in proceedings, only for Jack Cooper to collect a minor penalty to hand Oxford a momentum-breaking powerplay chance.

Raiders survived the shorthanded spell and went close when Buda sped down ice and forced a save from Duffy, who was quick to deny Pitchley from the rebound.

But it was 4-2 soon after as Pitchley completed a natural hat-trick when tapping in another rebound to claim the 8,000th goal in Raiders’ club history.

And defenceman Cooper went close to breaking his duck when Buda shrugged off two Oxford players and teed him up, but his shot from the point was saved by Duffy.

Miles and Ikin clashed for the second time on the night in the final minute, with the Raiders forward receiving a 5+game penalty for roughing as Oxford finished the match on the powerplay.

But they could not capitalise and will need a three-goal win back on home ice on Sunday to eliminate Raiders and set up a meeting with champions Chelmsford or Bracknell in the last four.

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