SWINDON Wildcats player-coach Aaron Nell admitted the Basingstoke Bison’s superior finishing was the difference as the Link Centre outfit go into Sunday’s second leg of the South Cup semi-final trailing 3-4.

Chris Jones had the best chances for the Wildcats early on, missing an empty-netter and a one on one while netminder Renny Marr had to be at his best to deny the Bison.

Nell had one kicked off the line shortly after as Swindon came up empty in the first.

Basingstoke did manage an opener though, George Northcliffe snuck one underneath Marr on a breakaway as the Bison went in ahead after one period.

Two unbelievable saves in the second off Max Birbraer and Chris Jones from Bison netminder Alex Mettam denied the Cats an equaliser, before Luc Johnson snuck one in at the near post to tie proceedings at one.

Two top-shelf flicks from Alex Sampford extended the visitors’ lead with Swindon displaying a contrasting level of quality from their excellent win at home to Peterborough in the league last week.

The Wildcats halved the deficit in the third with a rather fortunate shorthanded goal, courtesy of Jonas Hoog, that wrong-footed Mettam before rolling into the net.

However, less than 30 seconds after the restart, Basingstoke scored their fourth through Russ Cowley.

Max Birbraer forced home a third with six-and-a-half minutes to go to, but the Cats couldn’t find another equaliser and go into Sunday’s semi-final second leg down 4-3.

Despite the defeat, Nell remained positive and paid tribute to Basingstoke’s ability to be clinical in front of goal.

He said: “I thought it was a great game tonight, but their execution in front of the net was better than ours.

“We had to work hard to score tonight and their goalie was incredible. The save before Max (Birbraer) scored was one of the best I’ve seen all season.

“We’re glad we kept it tight and we’ve just got to go out and win a hockey game tomorrow.”

The Wildcats will have to overturn the one-goal deficit if they are to defend one of the two cups that they won last season, and Nell is aware it will be no easy task against a side that many had predicted to struggle at the start of the season.

He said: “Basingstoke are excellent – fair play to all of their staff and management for what they’ve done so far, and what they’re planning to do for the rest of the year.

“They worked hard tonight and scored some good goals. Hopefully we can be a bit better tomorrow and get that win.

“We had seven, eight or nine big chances that we didn’t take and they scored their big chances, but it’s all to play for tomorrow still.”