The ability to win games when not playing well is often considered a recipe for sporting success – and that was certainly the case for Peterborough Phantoms last night (January 21).
The city team moved two points clear at the top of NIHL Division One South after a 4-2 victory against second-bottom Invicta at Planet Ice.
Slava Koulikov’s men undeniably made hard work of shrugging off a short-benched set of strugglers, but they did enough to follow up a 6-1 success at Milton Keynes Thunder the previous evening to complete a valuable four-point weekend in their chase for title glory.
“It has been a tough run of three games in four days,” said Koulikov. “We have to be happy with a four-point weekend so soon after the disappointment of losing a cup semi-final on penalties.
“It wasn’t easy against Milton Keynes Thunder on Saturday when we were in a very tough game until the final 10 minutes.
“And it most definitely wasn’t easy against Invicta either. Every team is here to fight for points no matter where they are in the table and credit to them for the way they did that.
“I can’t deny that we could have played a lot better against Invicta, but we showed character and determination to pick up the win we needed.
“Of course we always want to put in the best performance we can, but we’re at a stage of the season where results really matter and we need to make sure we continue to get them.”
Phantoms were the better team throughout the opening period, but almost three-quarters of it passed before captain James Ferrara managed a breakthrough as he buried a smart Darius Pliskauskas pass.
Glenn Billing, fresh from an eight-minute hat-trick the previous evening, missed a golden chance to double the lead moments later. Excellence from visiting netminder Damien King then denied Nathan Long before Pliskauskas rattled the bare after seizing on a sloppy giveaway.
But Phantoms were stung by a surprise Invicta leveller with 38 seconds of the first session left on the clock. Mason Webster, a member of the city club’s English Premier League Play-Offs winning side of 2015, pounced from close range.
Phantoms were then fortunate not to find themselves behind little more than two minutes into the middle stanza when Dynamos import Jaroslaw Cesky - another Peterborough man of the past - was denied by netminder Euan King in a one-on-one situation.
And they quickly made the most of that let-off by edging ahead again when Pliskauskas’ sharp shot zipped into the net before Damien King (brother of Euan) could muster a reaction.
But Phantoms didn’t manage to shake off an Invicta team light on numbers - the Kent side boasted only 12 skaters - until deep into the closing period. Nathan Salem gave them breathing space before Ferrara struck for the second time, but even then Phantoms couldn’t relax.
Webster bagged his second goal only 10 seconds after Ferrara had done likewise and Invicta then sacrificed Damien King in favour of an extra skater.
It meant Phantoms finished a far-from-convincing victory under pressure, but they held firm to complete a four-point weekend which was further boosted by biggest title rivals Basingstoke losing in Swindon last night.
Koulikov’s men now sit two points clear at the summit although the Bison still boast a game in hand. Those two sides meet in early February.
Phantoms face back-to-back clashes against basement boys Cardiff Fire – who have lost all 21 of their league fixtures to date - in the coming weekend.
The sides at opposite ends of NIHL Division One South meet at Planet Ice on Saturday (January 27, 7pm) ahead of a return clash in the Welsh capital the following day (January 28, 6pm).
14:52 J. Ferrara ass: Pliskauskas/Griffiths
23:35 Pliskauskas ass: Salem/Robson
55:18 Salem ass: Jamieson/Russell
57:59 J. Ferrara ass: Billing/Padelek
19:22 M. Webster ass: Ralph
58:09 M. Webster ass: Cesky
Phantoms – Owen Griffiths
Invicta – Tommy Ralph