It was a case of good performance, great game, stunning clincher but terrible turnout as Peterborough Phantoms triumphed in the opening leg of their English Premier League Cup semi-final last night (January 18).
Slava Koulikov’s side beat table-topping Telford Tigers 4-2 in an exciting last-four showdown at a sparsely populated Planet Ice with their success being sealed by a moment of genius from Ales Padelek.
The Czech star fired in a brilliant empty-net goal off the boards with six seconds remaining to ensure Phantoms triumphed – it’s just a shame more people weren’t there to witness it.
So many empty seats for a game of such significance will no doubt have been a major disappointment for club chiefs, but the same certainly can’t be said of Phantoms’ performance on the ice.
However, it doesn’t necessarily mean the city men are in the driving seat to reach the final with results in the latter stages of this competition based on points rather than aggregate scores.
Phantoms collected two points of their victory last night, but will still need a positive result in the return clash in Shropshire to advance to the showpiece, where Milton Keynes lie in wait, for the second successive season.
They probably wish this system was in place last season when spanked 9-1 at Guildford in the first leg of the final!
“Maybe the new ruling was brought in because of what happened there,” said Koulikov. “I’m not sure of the thinking behind it, but that is the format we have to work to.
“It was essential to win our home leg and we worked for every single second of the 60 minutes to make that happen, but it doesn’t mean we are favourites or anything like that.
“We still need to get a result in Telford to make it through to the final, and we’ll focus on doing that.”
The breakthrough was made by Phantoms in the opening session last night when a fine Edgars Bebris pass left Darius Pliskauskas with the simple task of finding the twine.
Recent Tigers recruit Jonny Baston – an import netminder whose signing created major controversy in the sport due to the Tigers’ major financial problems - denied Petr Stepanek and Tom Norton amongst others to prevent the city side from increasing their advantage.
And it turned into a deficit during the second period as the visitors struck twice in little more than two minutes. Rick Plant poked in a scruffy leveller before Milan Kolena struck with a considerably classier effort, and only some smart work from Phantoms netminder Janis Auzins prevented them from falling further behind.
It looked set to turn into a costly stanza as the city side failed to capitalise on almost two minutes of five-on-three play, but seconds later they did level as James Archer pounced from close range.
It was a goal which probably changed the tone of Koulikov’s team-talk, and whatever he said in the locker room certainly had the desired effect.
Phantoms were dominant in the final period and Pliskauskas fired them ahead for a second time when burying a pass from the impressive Wehebe Darge.
They came agonisingly close to further goals as Bebris drilled a shot into the side-netting and Martins Susters rattled the crossbar before Pliskauskas was denied a hat-trick by a sprawling Baston save.
Sam Towner then missed the target completely with another clear chance before Phantoms were reliant on a terrific Auzins stop to deny Sam Jones as Telford broke away.
The visitors pulled goaltender Baston with 88 seconds on the clock and then gained a numerical advantage with 38 of them remaining as Phantoms had defenceman Tom Norton thrown out for checking from behind in a goalmouth melee.
Order was quickly restored and discipline soon regained as Phantoms kept Telford at bay before sealing victory in stunning style through Padelek.
It was a goal worthy of winning any game as he guided in his perfectly-judged effort with use of angles that a billiards player would be proud to call their own.
“It was a good game with both teams playing well,” added Koulikov.
“We did have a couple of wobbles here and there, but that is to be expected when playing a team who have sat top of the league for virtually the whole season.
“We really controlled the final period, but Telford had nothing to lose and really went for it.
“We had to withstand a lot of pressure in those final moments before Paddy managed to score that great goal.”
Phantoms still have plenty of work to do in the tie when going to Telford for the second leg on Sunday (January 22, 6pm).
They must first negotiate a league fixture when entertaining Hull at Planet Ice on Saturday (January 21, 7pm).
12:54 Pliskauskas ass: Bebris/Norton
36:37 Archer ass: Bebris/Stepanek
46:54 Pliskauskas ass: Darge/R. Ferrara
59:54 Padelek (SH, ENG) ass: Darge
27:32 Plant ass: Goodison/Silverthorn
29:35 Kolena ass: Silverthorn/Plant
PHANTOMS – Wehebe Darge
TELFORD – Milan Kolena