Lightning grind out win, but title dream appears to be over...

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LIGHTNING began the new year with a disappointing loss, after ending the old one with a narrow overtime victory.

Lightning lost 5-2 at English Premier leaders Manchester Phoenix on Sunday in a match which saw Monir Kalgoum miss out through a shoulder injury.

On Thursday night last week it took a fantastic overtime winner courtesy of Andre Smulter to seal maximum points against Swindon Wildcats at Planet Ice.

Coach Nick Poole rang the changes with another switch in the forward lines with the result that none of them were really effective enough to break down a largely unadventurous Swindon side.

The first period was practically a non event with scoring chances few and far between for either side - Lightning’s best effort of it being a one on one by Michael Wales which saw him shoot straight at netminder Chris Douglas. Not that the visitors fared better, with Josef Liska’s early effort hitting the post and an Egid Bauba shot flying wide of target.

As the second period got under way Smulter had a shot blocked and after 27 minutes Douglas did well to pull off a double save from the same player.

But it was Wildcats who registered the first goal as Liska was the provider for Bauba to fire past goalie Alex Mettam from distance on 34m21s. A powerplay chance came Lightning’s way when first Jason Stone was penalised for holding, followed by Joe Baird for boarding.

Almost as soon as Stone emerged from the sin bin Lightning got their equaliser - Gary Clarke setting up Lukas Zatopek for a blue line rocket that gave Douglas no chance at 38m34s.

By this stage Kalgoum was forced to retire from the period due to injury. He returned for the final session though, during which Lightning really upped the tempo and outshot the visitors 20-7. But it was to no avail as Lightning could not find a way past Douglas, even despite a barrage of shots from Smulter, Adam Carr and Clarke in the final minutes of regulation time.

So with the game tied at 1-1 it was into overtime, and Lightning finally grabbed the points when Smulter blasted high into the net from way out on the right hand side at 63m11s - just seconds after Mettam blocked a Ryan Aldridge shot.

On Sunday Phoenix proved too strong for Lightning after dealing the visitors an early blow - Luke Boothroyd setting up a Marcus Kristofferson goal on 3m13s.

A tripping penalty on Lewis Christie then gave Phoenix a man advantage a few minutes later, and the hosts didn’t waste it with former Lightning player James Archer slotting home from a Stephen Wallace pass at 9m47s. But the city side were not finished and Leigh Jamieson’s shot beat goalie Stephen Fone on the powerplay at 16m55s.

Phoenix then effectively put the game beyond Lightning’s reach with two quick strikes at the start of the second period - Wallace sent the puck past Mettam on 21m28s and 62 seconds later the goalie was retrieving it from Ben Morgan.

Lightning got a goal back through a Michael Farn assisted Smulter shot, but the gap was restored in the home side’s favour on 38m39s when Archer provided the pass for Wallace to bag his second.

That goal proved to be the last of the game as Phoenix played safe to preserve their lead and Lightning were unable to beat Fone again. The north west side are now 20 points ahead of Lightning at the top, although they do have six games in hand.

The first of those comes this Saturday Lightning welcome rivals Peterborough Phantoms to Planet Ice at 7pm before making the difficult trip to second in the table Guildford Flames on Sunday.

>> There was a happy start to 2011 for MK Thunder who ran out 5-2 winners at Oxford on Sunday in their English National League clash.

Their success was built on a fantastic individual performance by keeper Mark Woolf who stopped 43 out of the 45 shots fired at him.

Ross Bowers equalised an early home goal and Matt Roberts put Thunder 2-1 ahead. Martyn Snape got a third before Bowers and Paul Gore made it 5-1, and the hosts grabbed a late consolation.