LIGHTNING went into their weekend matches sitting pretty at the top of the English Premier League, but two shock defeats have seen them drop all the way down to sixth in what is an incredibly tight table.
Seven wins in eight had seen Nick Poole’s men share the summit with Slough Jets – who still remain there – but a poor performance at home to rivals Peterborough Phantoms on Saturday night saw them beaten 4-1, before they were upset by Bracknell Bees in a 4-3 away loss on Sunday.
Most worrying for Poole was that Bees and Phantoms went into their clashes against Lightning occupying the bottom two places in the table, and this weekend sees his side take on third placed Guildford Flames at home on Saturday night, and away in Surrey on Sunday. They do have games in hand on most of the sides above them, but a big improvement will be needed from the city side.
They were almost at full strength for the visit of Peterborough, thanks to the return from injury of Juraj Gracik and Adam Brittle, although Lightning were still missing forward Jamie Line.
Phantoms took the lead less than four minutes in thanks to a James Spurr goal. And the visitors doubled their advantage four minutes later, leaving the home side on the back foot with the first period less than halfway through.
On an evening which saw referee Boardman call frequent penalties, Lightning’s Lewis Christie was the first to visit the sin bin at 11m 18s for cross-checking, but Phantoms were unable to make the man advantage count before they found themselves shorthanded when Luke Ferrara was sent to the penalty box for tripping.
But despite Matt Towalski, Grant McPherson, Lukas Zatopek and Leigh Jamieson sitting out penalties in the second period – at one point giving Peterborough a five on three advantage – the visitors were unable to find a way through Lightning’s defence again until 39m 17s when Jeff Glowa beat Barry Hollyhead.
The end of the second period prompted some scuffles on the ice, most of which dissolved, but Grant McPherson took on Phantoms’ Richie Bentham and both started the final period in the penalty box with double roughing penalties.
When Gracik set up Zatopek for one of his trademark blue line rockets to fire past Peterborough netminder Stephen Wall only 51 seconds into the final period, the home fans were given hope that Lightning were on the verge of a comeback.
But that initial momentum fizzled out and their fate was soon sealed when Glowa struck again with only two minutes on the clock to leave Lightning with only their second defeat in nine games. But a third would follow 24 hours later against another team struggling at the foot of the table.
Referee Boniface gave the first penalty call only a minute into the game when Jamieson was called for slashing, and the Bees took full advantage with Matt Foord beating Alex Mettam for the opener.
The home side then doubled their lead while Poole sat a penalty for tripping, with a Lukas Smital powerplay goal. But the Lightning fightback began when Gracik and Zatopek set up Blaz Emersic to beat the Bees’ defence at 16m 17s.
An interference penalty for Ross Green early in the second period saw Rob Lamey score Bracknell’s third powerplay goal of the evening, then Lukas Smital scored the hosts’ fourth at 30m 25s.
But that was to be the last time the Bees found the back of the net as Lightning put up the fight of their lives in the third period. Two goals less than under 30 seconds – from McPherson and Emersic – were followed by Mettam’s withdrawal in the final minute for the extra man, but to no avail as Bracknell held on.