Tired Phoenix caught out by Vipers

Sunday, 15th March 2009

Manchester Phoenix 3 - 5 Newcastle Vipers

Manchester Phoenix went down 3-5 at home on Sunday as their punishing schedule of late, together with two players missing, finally took its toll.

Phoenix player coach Tony Hand noted, "Our guys are very tired and tonight, despite a terrific effort, we just didn't have what it takes to win a game in our legs. I take nothing away from Newcastle, they came in and played a very good game and showed that they will be a handful in the playoffs for whoever they play. Our fixture scheduling of late has been very heavy and very tiring. Tonight was our fourth game in five night and on top of our recent travelling was just too much for the guys to cope with."

Phoenix went into the game missing the suspended Kyle Bruce and Carl Graham due to sickness and with other players also feeling below par due to stomach problems. And it was the Vipers, through former Phoenix forward Derek Campbell, who drew first blood. Ben Campbell pressured the Phoenix in their own zone and when the puck came free, namesake Derek sent a powerful wrist shot past Stephen Murphy into the top corner with just over two minutes played. Phoenix drew level on their first powerplay in the fifth minute with Nathan Ward getting a telling deflection to an Alex Dunn shot. Shortly afterwards, referee Carson awarded the Vipers a penalty shot and Stephen Murphy did enough to deny Ed Courtenay. Newcastle regained the lead in the ninth minute as a pinpoint accurate shot from David Longstaff found the back of the home net with assists to the two Campbells.

Phoenix were denied a second equaliser as Verner in the Vipers goal made a super stop to deny Luke Fulghum on a shorthanded breakaway and the visitors led at the first break.

The second period saw the Vipers kill an early penalty on Mark Gouett before increasing their lead through Rob Rankin in the 26th minute. Phoenix needed some inspiration and they so nearly got it from their player coach Tony Hand. With Bruce Mulherin serving a penalty, Hand broke away one-on-one with Verner only for the Vipers goalie to make a stunning save to deny him. Newcastle killed a Hooking penalty on Rankin and retired to the second interval with the two-goal margin in their favour.

Phoenix went hard at the Vipers in the final session forcing the visitors into penalty trouble including a long two-man powerplay opportunity. But, the fatigue of their hectic recent schedule was evident as too many passes went astray and their shooting on the Vipers goal failed to unduly worry the impressive Verner. Phoenix gave their fans hope in the 48th minute when Bruce Mulherin bagged his fourth goal of the weekend only for the Vipers to hit back with two goals in 28 seconds in the 50th minute, the first coming from Ben Campbell before Courtenay finally beat Stephen Murphy for 2-5. Phoenix refused to give in and pulled one more goal back in the 55th minute as Brett Clouthier and Ward combined for Adam Walker to blast the puck past Verner. Phoenix pulled Stephen Murphy with 62 seconds remaining, but the Vipers held on and in the end were good value for their victory.

Phoenix travel to Belfast for the second leg of the Challenge Cup Final on Tuesday March 17th. The game will be played at the Dundonald Ice Bowl with face-off at 7.30pm.