COACH Dan MacKriel has urged his Blackburn Hawks players to raise their performance level between now and the end of the season after they let rivals Whitley Warriors back into the title race.

When the Hawks beat the Warriors 4-3 three weekends ago they established a nine point lead at the top of the Moralee Conference, but they have since lost successive away games to see the gap cut to just five points, while the North East side have a game in hand to close it to three points.

Players and staff at the Hawks were left dumbfounded by their performance in the 8-4 defeat at Sutton Sting last Sunday, which came just 24 hours after they had beaten Billingham Stars 10-0 with a performance MacKriel described as 'very, very good'.

"It was a funny old weekend. On Saturday we made a decent team look very ordinary," he said.

"Unfortunately we made too many individual errors at Solihull. We didn't defend well.

"They outworked us as well which was really disappointing and that's something we've addressed.

"We have to learn from our mistakes. We get everybody back on page and working towards the ultimate goal."

Earlier this week captain Chris Arnone said he was lost for words after the Sutton performance, and MacKriel was also shocked by the result.

"Since I came back here for my second spell I don't think we've ever let eight goals in," he said.

"When you score four on the road you've got to be closing out games. We were sat there scratching our heads thinking 'where has that come from?'.

"The main thing now is we refocus and we look to tighten up defensively and not let teams get involved and get the upper hand. But if that does happen we need to work even harder.

"We're going to have to raise our performances and our work ethic between now and the end of the season."

The Hawks face another double header weekend, with a trip to Telford Tigers today (5.30pm), before a home game against Sheffield Spartans tomorrow (5.45pm).

"Telford away is a tough game, they've got some great players and it's a smaller ice pad than it is at Blackburn so it's going to be in your face, they're very well drilled," said MacKriel.

"Sheffield are also a good side. Results have been favourable for us every time we've played but they are capable of pulling off wins against the top teams.

"It's going to be a tough weekend but if we're working hard and working on our game plans and being smart then it should be four points."

This time a year ago the invincible Hawks were close to wrapping up the Moralee Conference title, but they find themselves in a much tougher battle for glory this time around.

"That's the strength of the league this year. I think people underestimated how strong it would be at the start of the season," said MacKriel.

"We knew in our camp it was going to be a lot tougher this year.

"It's a credit to the league. It's a good league and players need to realise and understand that turning up week in and week out is what's needed to get the right results."