Phoenix push the champions all the way

Sunday, 11th January 2009

Manchester Phoenix 1 - 2 Coventry Blaze

A battling performance by the Manchester Phoenix saw them lose narrowly on Sunday to a very strong and defending league champion Coventry Blaze.

With the Blaze determined to try and hang onto their title, they got the perfect start as Tom Watkins converted a Danny Stewart feed in just the second minute to fire them into the lead. And the visitors appeared on a mission to try and blow the Phoenix aside as they came forward in wave after wave of attacks as they rotated three strong lines throughout the game. Stephen Murphy in the Phoenix goal was by far the busier of the two netminders and he performed superbly to keep the first period to just a 0-1 score line.

The pattern of the game continued unabated in the second session and it wasn't as if the Phoenix weren't competing, the problem was simply that the Blaze had greater depth on their roster and used it to dominate the possession and the shots on goal count. But the Phoenix were not over-run and they deservedly drew level on a 37th minute powerplay as Bruce Mulherin tallied, with his third goal of the weekend, on assists from Kenton Smith and Lucas Burnett. Having drawn level, it was vital that Phoenix try to close out the period, but just over a minute later, Great Britain international Jonathan Weaver blasted the Blaze back in front with what proved to be the game-winning goal. Phoenix were denied a second equaliser moments later as Nathan Ward saw his left wing shot beat Perras in the Blaze goal but rebound to safety off the goalpost.

Phoenix battled hard in the final period throwing everything they had at the Blaze without putting the visitors under a sustained period of pressure. Coventry had done their homework and managed to nullify the offensive prowess of the Phoenix top forward line and they were able to close out the game with no change to the scoreboard.

Phoenix player/coach Tony Hand reflected, "That's three games this season we've lost by the odd goal to Coventry and despite the result, I'm very proud of the way my guys battled every minute, every shift. They're the defending champions and on tonight's performance, probably the best team in the league right now. It's disappointing to have taken nothing from the weekend, as the gap between ourselves and the teams in the top four is that little bit wider now."

Phoenix travel to the league-leading Sheffield Steelers on Friday before a Sunday home fixture at the Silver Blades Ice Dome in Altrincham when they take on the Belfast Giants in a 5.30pm face-off.

Stephen Murphy

Phoenix netminder Stephen Murphy put in yet another Man of the Match winning performance

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