Conceding twice in the space of 13 seconds to slip up against lower-level opposition would normally be seen as quite a calamity, but for Peterborough Phantoms it was well down the list of concerns last night (January 11).
The city team achieved an unwanted first when suffering a 5-4 reverse at the hands of short-benched Solway Sharks in the English Challenge Cup – in the process becoming the only English Premier League team to date to be beaten by English National League opposition in the North Group.
The result, and overall sloppy performance, certainly didn’t please Phantoms player-coach Slava Koulikov, but given this was the fourth in a long line of six meaningless games in the competition he wasn’t exactly reaching for the teacups and hairdryer.
To be brutally honest, he has bigger things to worry about such as the arrival of new import forward Donatas Kumeliauskas (which should happen later this week) and the loss of two key players for several weeks.
Star turn Darius Pliskauskas has a fractured elbow (an injury he is said to have played through for six weeks) while defenceman James Hutchinson has a potentially serious knee ligament problem after being hurt in the famous win at Telford last weekend.
That duo were obviously not involved last night while the club’s remaining import, netminder supreme Janis Auzins, and top defenceman Tom Norton were also given the night off.
Local boy Dan Lane got the nod between the pipes for the second successive English Challenge Cup game and was beaten within 65 seconds by former Phantoms man Ritchie Bentham.
The hosts clearly didn’t learn their lesson as they conceded again just 17 seconds into the second session from Steven Moore and a third Solway goal arrived from Struan Tonnar at 26:13. It was down as unassisted despite receiving rather large assistance from the skate of Phantoms man Greg Pick.
Koulikov responded by immediately calling a time-out and no doubt plenty of harsh words were spoken during that 30-second gathering by the bench.
The result was a livelier Phantoms side who began the task of clawing their way back into the contest when Marc Levers struck on a delayed penalty.
They later levelled courtesy of a pair of third period powerplay goals from captain James Ferrara and Koulikov, and the turnaround appeared complete when Will Weldon tipped in another Koulikov blast as they hit the front for the first time with less than four minutes remaining.
But this game came complete with an extra-large sting in the tail thanks to Solway’s quickfire salvo.
Pulling impressive netminder Gary Russell reaped reward as Ross Murray burst through some statuesque Phantoms men to level and the goalie had only just returned to his crease when Bentham scampered away single-handedly to strike 13 seconds later.
Phantoms’ response was to remove their own netminder Adam Long, who had replaced Lane for the final session, but it was to no avail.
“We came out unprepared,” admitted Koulikov. “We thought it was going to be an easy game and that was not the case.
“In my view the first half of the game was really boring, but we tried hard to then make it enjoyable for the fans.
“There was a lot of entertainment for them in the final period as we got level and then went in front only to lose it.
“Losing this game is not really an issue when you think of the bigger picture, but the fact the guys who were out on the ice produced unacceptable performances does concern me a little bit.”
At least Phantoms are nearing the end of the long North Group road. A weekend on the road at Solway (January 17) and Blackburn (January 18) will complete their involvement in this most disruptive and underwhelming of competitions.
35:50 Levers (DP) ass: Koulikov/Weldon
42:19 J. Ferrara (PP) ass: Koulikov/Bebris
52:33 Koulikov (PP) ass: Levers/Bebris
56:21 Weldon ass: Koulikov/J. Ferrara
1:05 Bentham ass: Kerr
20:17 Moore ass: Murray/Coulter
26:13 Tonnar unassisted
58:23 Murray ass: Moore
58:36 Bentham unassisted
Phantoms – Will Weldon
Solway – Gary Russell