IT WAS a tough return to league action for Blackburn Hawks as they welcomed high-flying Whitley Warriors to the Arena and went down 6-3.

Having beaten Solihull Barons 6-4 in the final Midland Cup group game last weekend it was a first NIHL North Moralee League clash of 2020 for the Hawks - but it was the Warriors who went away with the spoils.

The defeat, a ninth in 12 outings, means the Hawks have slipped to sixth place in the seven team division.

It was always going to be a tough task for the Hawks against title-chasing Whitley who have lost just one game all season and are a point behind leaders Solway Sharks but with three games in hand.

And it was Whitley who took the lead when Callum Watson opened the scoring in the sixth minute. That lead was doubled in the 13th minute with Ben Campbell getting on the scoresheet.

With five minutes remaining in the period, the Hawks stepped up a gear and took the game to the Warriors and pulled a goal back when Petr Valusiak made a deft back-hand shot that lifted over Ritchie Lawson’s raised glove.

Soon after, the Hawks were on level terms when Valusiak and Joe Greaves combined, Valusiak eventually tapping the puck home into the open net.

But in the dying seconds of the period, Warriors regained their lead when Phillip Edgar scored. In the second period, the Warriors stamped their authority on the game and within two minutes of the restart, they opened up a three goal with Dean Holland and Phil Edgar both on target.

And before the period was up, Warriors were 6-2 up with Callum Queenan scoring for the visitors.

The final 20 minutes of play was a better contest as far as the Hawks were concerned as they matched Whitley and scored the only goal as Petr Valusiak went on to complete his hat-trick.

The Hawks have a double header against Billingham Stars at the weekend - away on Saturday and home on Sunday.