Dogged Phoenix upset league leaders

Sunday, 28th January 2007

Manchester Phoenix earned a tremendous and valuable two points on Saturday night as the game plan of player/coach Tony Hand saw his side down the bmibaby Elite League leading Belfast Giants.

A stunning opening period by the Phoenix in the Belfast Odyssey Arena on Saturday night saw them open up a three-goal margin over their high-flying hosts. Simon Mangos fired the Phoenix in front in the third minute on the games first powerplay opportunity and just twelve seconds later, Adam Walker added a second with his sixth goal of the season. Belfast steadied their ship but couldn’t prevent the Phoenix from taking a three-goal lead into the first interval – Derek Campbell bagging his 13th of the campaign assisted by Hand and captain Scott Basiuk.

Belfast used the break to re-group and in the second period began to dominate the play as their greater depth on the bench began to tell. But, Phoenix were dogged in their rearguard actions and defended their precious lead until the 29th minute when former Phoenix star George Awada reduced the arrears and lifted the spirits of the home supporters. Phoenix survived the ensuing onslaught and took the two-goal lead into the second break.

Belfast, as befitting their status as league leaders, came out determined for the final period and laid siege to the Phoenix goal, but roared on by a vociferous travelling support, Phoenix battened down the hatches to keep the Giants at bay. On 52 minutes, Belfast made it a one-goal game as Jeff Hutchins fired home to set up a nail-biting finale as they threw everything they could at the visitors’ goal. Phoenix battled manfully and could have increased their lead after the Giants pulled their netminder in the final minute and Tony Hand shot narrowly wide of the unguarded net.

A delighted Hand commented, “Tonight was a real team effort from start to finish. We started really well and deserved the three-goal lead, and then dug deep in battling hard to retain it. Belfast are a good side, but we’ve played them well, and all credit to my players, they defended superbly.”