MATCH REACTION: Pride in defeat for Phantoms coach Koulikov
Peterborough Phantoms head coach Slava Koulikov spoke of his pride despite seeing his players come up agonisingly short of silverware again.
The city team were beaten 3-2 on aggregate by Basingstoke - the same opponents who pipped them to league glory on goal difference - in the NIHL Division One South play-off final over the weekend.
The sides battled out a 1-1 draw in the Saturday (March 31) first leg in Peterborough before Bison triumphed 2-1 in a Hampshire return clash settled by a controversial goal last night (April 1).
Koulikov was adamant that Basingstoke’s crucial strike from Roman Malinik should have been scrubbed out due to a home player being offside, but it was allowed to stand and proved to be the difference between two teams who are so evenly-matched.
But the Phantoms chief was pleased with the way his side – without star forwards Darius Pliskauskas and Owen Griffiths due to injury – performed over 120 minutes of tough hockey.
“It is difficult not to be disappointed after losing a play-off final, but I want to be positive,” stressed Koulikov. “We have to put everything in perspective and admit that missing two of our top guys had a big effect on the team.
“We could well have scored a few more goals with Owen and Darius fit and potentially the outcome might have been different, but I congratulate the Basingstoke guys and their coach for winning two trophies.
“Not many teams are capable of going to Basingstoke and putting them under pressure for big spells like we did, though.
“In this situation where the margins are so small, I have to be proud of my guys for stepping up without key players and taking it right to the end against the champions.
“They gave it their all. They fought for 60 mins on Saturday and 60 mins on Sunday.
“In these kind of games you always need a bit of luck, but I felt we didn’t have that. The big call and every little call as well seemed to go against us.”
Koulikov now faces the task of picking up his players for one final attempt at a trophy.
Phantoms feature in the NIHL Final Four in Coventry this weekend where they face North play-off champions Telford at the semi-final stage.
That is a 1pm clash on Saturday (April 7) before Basingstoke meet North runners-up Sheffield later in the day with the two winning sides progressing to a Sunday (April 8, 5pm) final showdown.
Koulikov added: “We’ve lost on penalties in a cup semi-final, lost out on goal difference in a league title race and been beaten by an offside goal in a play-off final so I will be going to church this week to pray that something goes our way for a change!
“It’s not the first time we’ve had disappointments and we will regroup to get ready for a tough test against Telford.
“They are the form team of their division. They have a lot of players we know and a top coach who has won a lot of trophies.
“But we have one more chance to win a trophy in the final weekend of the season and I know for a fact that my guys will do everything they can again.”