Phoenix in KO Cup driving seat

Thursday, 19th February 2009

Newcastle Vipers 1 - 4 Manchester Phoenix

Manchester Phoenix will take a three-goal margin into the second leg of their Knockout Cup semi-final next Thursday in Altrincham after a fine win in Whitley Bay on Wednesday evening.

After a delayed start to the game, Newcastle set out to try and unsettle the Phoenix with Chris McAllister squaring up to Brett Clouthier at the first drop of the puck. Both threw a number of punches, before sitting the requisite five minutes major penalties for Fighting. With the dust having settled, Phoenix got down to the serious work of trying to get a march on their Tyneside opponents. The opening goal came in just the fourth minute as the Phoenix top line clicked neatly into gear on a powerplay with Jeff Hutchins in the sin-bin, Tony Hand and Luke Fulghum creating yet another goal for David-Alexandre Beauregard. The physical aspect of the Vipers make-up was never far from the surface and after Andre Payette and Alex Dunn exchanged a few unpleasantries, Payette and Brett Clouthier also swapped words while serving Delay of Game penalties.

With Phoenix missing Bruce Mulherin due to an injury sustained in Belfast on Tuesday, Phoenix adjusted their lines and it was Nathan Ward who eventually doubled their lead in the 32nd minute finishing a move involving Lucas Burnett and Kyle Bruce. The Vipers were doing their best to fight back and twice had 'goals' washed out for the net being off its moorings.

Into the final session and with the home side straining to try and reduce the arrears, it was phoenix netminder Stephen Murphy who took centre stage with some excellent saves. With less than seven minutes on the clock, Phoenix scored a big third goal as Josh Garbutt and Fulghum combined to release Brett Clouthier and the big man broke away to consummately beat Andrew Verner in the home goal for 3-0. The Vipers responded immediately as their captain David Longstaff broke Murphy's shutout bid, but Phoenix wrapped up a fine nights work in the final seconds as Luke Fulghum converted a pass from Kenton Smith to put his side in the driving seat for the second leg.

Newcastle were not shy of attacking ideas and were annoyed when referee Moray Hanson washed a 'goal' out for the net being off its moorings. The physical aspect of the Vipers make-up was never far from the surface as Andre Payette began to throw his weight around before he and Brett Clouthier exchanged words.

Phoenix player coach Tony Hand commented, "The guys played really well tonight after a long couple of days travelling back and too to Belfast. We wanted to at least keep it close, but to come away with a three-goal lead is a great result. As last weekend, we'll take nothing for granted in the second leg next Thursday as we know the Vipers will come at us hard once again."

Phoenix have an away and home Elite League weekend against the Basingstoke Bison, travelling to Hampshire on Saturday before the return fixture in Altrincham on Sunday with a 5.30pm face-off.