Manchester Phoenix came out on top after a nerve-jangling eight-round penalty shootout against Milton Keynes Lightning on Sunday to consolidate their position at the top of the English Premier League.
Tony Hand’s title-chasers showed their battling qualities to overcome the well-organised visitors after trailing for two periods.

After the top six failed to make the breakthrough, the third line of Liam Chong Richard Bentham and Jack Watkins combined to pull the home side level after 42 minutes, cancelling out Jordan Cowie’s opener.

Phoenix edged in front on the power play four minutes later through Robin Kovar, only for the Lightning to peg them back again with their own power play effort with less than six minutes to play.

The two teams could not be separated by five minutes of overtime – or the first seven rounds of a dramatic shootout.

Phoenix goaltender Steve Fone then produced a contender for save of the season to deny MK’s Michael Farn before Manchester D-man Joe Graham notched the winning shot to the relief of the home crowd.

The hard-fought win came after Phoenix had overpowered the struggling Slough Jets in Saturday’s road game.

The hosts had taken the lead midway through the first period after Jets coach Craig Moran pulled import goalie Andrej Vasiljevic for Danny Milton on a power play, allowing him to put three overseas players against Phoenix with the man advantage. The move paid off when Ales Padelek swept home a rebound from Kamil Tvrdek.

But Phoenix hit back less than a minute into the second period when Robin Kovar’s speculative effort crept under Vasiljevic, who must have wished he was back on the bench.

Slough regained the lead with another power play goal after 28.07, with Jamie Line getting the telling touch.

A fine passing move saw Phoenix make it 2-2 on 37.16 as they swept from one end of the ice to the other and Michal Psurny fired the puck home.

Two minutes later, James Archer slammed home Hand’s pass on the power play to snatch the lead just before the buzzer.

That seemed to break the Jets resistance and the ice seemed to tilt firmly in Manchester’s favour in the final 20 minutes. Psurny grabbed his second with an assist from Archer on 52.27 before Kovar added the fifth and final goal, assisted by Frankie Bakrlik.

With title rivals the Basingstoke Bison and Guildford Flames both slipping to defeats on Sunday night, the maximum four-point weekend for Phoenix could be huge as the regular season enters the home stretch.

They now top the table with 56 points, two ahead of Basingstoke and five clear of Guildford – and with three games in hand on both their rivals.

Phoenix will look to make it five wins in a row today when they travel to Sheffield for what is sure to be another feisty trans-Pennine derby with Andre Payette’s Steeldogs.

Playoff-chasing Telford Tigers, captained by former Phoenix forward Scott McKenzie, then visit the Altrincham Ice Dome on Sunday with face-off at 5.30pm.

EPL results

Saturday 25 January

Basingstoke Bison 6-5 Sheffield Steeldogs

Milton Keynes Lightning 1-3 Bracknell Bees

Slough Jets 2-5 Manchester Phoenix

Swindon Wildcats 7-1 Peterborough Phantoms

Sunday 26 January

Bracknell Bees 3-6 Swindon Wildcats

Guildford Flames 2-3 Telford Tigers

Manchester Phoenix 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning

Peterborough Phantoms 5-2 Basingstoke Bison

Sheffield Steeldogs 3-6 Slough Jets

Wednesday 29 January

Milton Keynes Lightning 3-2 Slough Jets

Basingstoke Bison 8-3 Guildford Flames (EPL Cup semi-final 1st leg)

Andy Jowett

Pic: Andrew Sobutta