BRADFORD BULLDOGS signed off their 2021-22 season in late, dramatic winning style, edging out visitors Sutton Sting with just one second remaining.
The 4-3 victory saw the Bulldogs finish their North Two (Laidler) campaign in fifth spot, just one point outside the top four play-off spots, their hopes of making the post-season having already been dashed after Sutton won 6-5 at Hull Jets the previous weekend.
Both Hull and Sutton will now go forward to the Final Four Weekend along with regular season champions Telford Tigers and Sheffield Titans in Widnes on April 16-17.
Matthew Barlow was the late, late hero for the hosts, his second of the game coming at 59.59 after the Bulldogs had earlier let a two-goal lead slip.
They had got off to the perfect start when Ben Darbyshire fired them in front with just 1.46 on the clock. Charlie Saunders levelled at 9.21 but the period belonged to the hosts, who restored their lead at 11.00 through Josh Reynolds before a power play offered an opportunity to double the lead with his first of the game at 18.46.
But the game turned at the halfway point when Sutton reduced the deficit to one after Cameron Glasby ford past Bulldogs’ goalie Sam Bolwell.
Morgan Glasby then ensured the teams went in level at the second intermission when he fired home at 34.52 and there was nothing to choose between the two teams until Barlow worked his magic with the very last play of the night.
Coach Hannah Gibson, stepping up with head coach Andy Brown away with Great Britain Under-18s at the World Championships in Estonia, said the Bulldogs got their rewards for their efforts despite being short on numbers.
“We had a great first period, plenty of shots on, very physical and some nice plays,” said Gibson. “This set us up nicely as things seemed to slip in the second with Sutton not going down without a fight.
“It was all to play for in the final third and tired legs started to show, especially as we were a few short due to the U18’s having a game in Telford.
“But we battled right until the final buzzer and it was great when Matty Barlow netted in the last second.
“Sam Bolwell had another fantastic game for us in net and deserved her MVP.”
Gibson said the win showed once again what the Bulldogs were capable of against the top teams, with their failure to make the Final Four Weekend incentive enough to ensure they do make the post-season next time around.
“We’ve had a tough season with the amount of players we’ve missed through injury, so it was great to finish on a high,” she added. “They’re a great bunch and we were unlucky to miss out on a play-off spot towards the end.
“We have shown numerous times this season what we are capable of, we continued to compete with the top teams and that final game against Sutton proved that too. However, it gives us all the more fuel to be successful next season – we won’t want to miss out again.”