City celebrate one of their five goals, Photo: MCWFC
MANCHESTER CITY WOMEN 5 – 0 DURHAM WOMEN FC
Manchester City kept their recent post World Cup unbeaten run going, with the Citizens turning on the style against a Durham side that was completely outclassed from the first whistle. Krystle Johnson and Nikita Parris both netted a brace each for City as well as strike by Izzy Christensen in the match and saw their rampant display keeping the current holders of the cup top of their group in the Continental Cup to remain unbeaten in the tournament.
Nick Cushing the City boss made a couple of changes from the side that picked up a stunning 2-1 win against Chelsea on Sunday evening, with Jill Scott,Beattie and Lucy Bronze all omitted from the squad. City gave some of their fringe players a chance to shine and it saw Cushing resting a couple of players in the glorious Manchester sunshine as they dismantled their division two opponents with ease. With yet another big crowd at the impressive Academy Stadium the game started off slightly scrappy to begin with, to which Durham found it extremely difficult to make any mark on the game.
Once City women settled down a bit they began to play their own style of football and started creating chances. Toni Duggan who has been on a hot streak of late, saw the England striker causing mayhem down the Durham left flank with some trickery and neat little play. The visitors had a tough time trying to gain possession and then had them pinned back deep in their half with City threatening on every attack. Steph Houghton nearly put the home side ahead with an early chance and then seen the newest signing to the club recently in Daphne Corboz, just flashing one past the far post.
A goal was always on the cards for the Citizens, and it came through a lovely curling effort from Krystle Johnson, that found the far side to beat the Durham keeper in the 12th minute. City were bossing the game and showing their complete dominance as they picked apart their opponents with some passes to carve them open and create good attacks. Nikita Parris then doubled the hosts advantage in the 25th minute, after some superb team play which saw Izzy Christensen and Daphne Corboz combining to see the former pass across face of goal for the on-loan striker to tap home for 2-0.
Toni Duggan then went close to keeping her record of scoring in every game since the World Cup break, when she made space for herself and unleashed a shot from outside the area that just narrowly missed the target. Duggan then produced a sublime scoop pass towards Parris and the striker nearly doubled her tally, but she just pulled her shot wide of the target.
Izzy Christiansen then made it three for the Citizens on the half hour, with Toni Duggan once again pulling the strings in attack for City, as her vision spotted Christensen unmarked and the midfielder slid in to put the ball in the net for a commanding lead and all but kill the game off pretty early.
Captain Steph Houghton saw her long range shot saved by Anne Moorhouse in the Durham goals, with City pressing for another goal before half time. Durham were just unable to contain the contain wave of sky blues shirt that kept coming towards them, so it came as no surprise when the the fourth goal went in 41 minutes. Nikita Parris claimed her second of the match as her initial shot was blocked by the keeper and defence, but she battled for the ball in the five yard area and smashed home the rebound into the back of the net for a stunning first half display by the home side.
City made a change at half time with Kathleen Radtke being replaced by debutant Georgia Stanway in the defense. Durham just couldn`t get to grips with the efficiency and work rate that the entire City side were putting onto their opponents, and through that it saw the hosts practically camped in the visitors half of the pitch. Johnson had a chance to make it five for City, but her effort was off target and then minutes later saw Parris going close with an effort herself and Johnson dragging his shot agonisingly inches by the far post.
The home side looked to be trying to score the perfect goal and not shooting when in dangerous areas in the Durham half. Credit to Durham, the contest was over in the first half, but they still thwarted and defended well at the back to avoid any more goals going in at the opening quarter of the second half. Nick Cushing then made a double substitution for the Citizens as Demi Stokes and a battling display from Izzy Christiansen saw them making way for Georgia Brougham and Natasha Flint, with the side just getting some extra energy and new dimension to their play.
Natasha Flint one the newest substitutes nearly grabbed a goal for the host as she hadn`t been on the pitch for long and saw her effort just going wide of the target and was a relief for the away team as they had a respite from the defending they all had to do from the blue shirts. Parris was looking for another goal and saw her shot on target cleared away by the North East team and the buildup of pressure on the away goal was becoming a matter of not if, but when the next goal would come. Heading into the final 15 minutes of play and the game had become a bit of a walking pace at times, but the City girls kept the pressure on and with four minutes from time it saw captain Steph Houghton picking up the ball in her half and having a little run before unleashing a great effort from over 30 yards away to have it just brushing the bar and going over.
Eventually all the hard work in the second half and especially the graft and chances that Krystle Johnson had created in the match, finally saw her netting goal five for the team and also her second of the match too. Johnson had picked the ball up in the penalty area and her shot was drilled on goal and went in off the legs of the goalkeeper to make the win even more empathic and move unbeaten in the Continental Cup groups stage so far. Full time came and seen a very professional job by the City team, in what may have possibly been banana skin for the home side after their recent good form in the league. Another big crowd of 1,185 went away happy from the Academy Stadium and sees an improved City side since the World Cup break now have a week and bit off, before they face title rivals and challengers in Arsenal Ladies in what will be a very stern test of their Women’s Super League credentials.
Manchester Phoenix travelled down the A1 road to Peterborough in what was a return fixture of last weekend’s epic encounter between the two sides that resulted in 2-2 draw at the Altrincham Ice Dome. Phoenix were hampered with a few absentees in their line-up for the game with the Phantoms, as they had only 6 skaters and were really under strength for the match. However the same couldn’t be said for the home side, as they welcomed back Ian Warner to the side and gave them an extra boost ahead of face off in what turned out to be a vital inclusion.
Both teams had different reasons for winning the contest, as both sides were still in the hunt for the league title going into the contest. Phoenix knew a win would put them right back in with a shout for the title, while a win for the defending champions would see them having one hand back on their crown that they didn’t want to relinquish.
With 1.18 gone in the game it saw the hosts scoring the opening goal of the match through Ian Warner, with the Great British International putting the puck under Steve Midghall in the Manchester goals for a 1-0 lead with Matt Coleman credited with the assist. Manchester responded well from going a goal down early and didn’t show signs of getting bogged down either, instead it saw them trying to create a few chances in the opening period of play.
Peterborough though with their bigger bench made full use of their extra bodies as the Phantoms were able to make some quick changes in the match and at times put the visiting Phoenix on the back foot. Ty Christopher was all over the ice like the proverbial Jack Russell on a sledge, with another member of the Great British contingent creating many problems for the Phoenix and hunting the puck down whenever he could.
Anthony Booth saw him register the first real effort on goal for Manchester as the forward skated on goal and had his effort dealt fairly easily by Robin Gaze in the Phantoms goals to keep the score as it was. Graham Wilson then picked up the first penalty call of the game, with the defenseman given a hooking penalty at 9.32 and saw a good kill by the Phoenix before Pat Bailey then took another penalty for the visitors as he was give two minutes for Boarding at 12.01.
Phantoms had the extra man at their disposal over the course of the two minute penalty on Bailey, however Darren Brown got caught out in his own zone by Anthony Booth and the forward had the patience to then finish it off with a nicely taken goal while short-handed to equalise for the Phoenix at 14.42. Thoughts of them heading into the break all square were cut short twelve seconds, when a lapse in defence by the visitors let in Ian Warner and the outcome was never in doubt with the Phantoms forward netting his second of the game for a 2-1 Peterborough lead with six seconds left in the period.
Warner’s goal The goal was harsh on the Phoenix really as they had actually come more into the contest as it went on in the first, but the Phantoms only needed a sniff of a chance to punish their opponents and that is what occurred with the home side on top in that aspect of the match. In the second period and it saw the game being controlled by the hosts, as the Phoenix had done brilliantly to stifle the home attacks and keep it on a knife edge with all the pressure the Phantoms were putting them under.
The East Anglian side went up a gear and created a few more opportunities for themselves as the long shifts for Manchester were starting to show at times during the middle stanza as they had to use their reserves in the energy stake a bit to. Peterborough were looking more dangerous now in the match than at any other time with a couple of mistakes by their opponents were not being pounced on by the hosts and so the Phoenix were hanging in.
At 28-51 the Phantoms got their insurance marker in the game through Warner yet again, as this time he fired in his hat trick goal from just inside the blue line after the Phoenix had failed to clear their defensive lines and seen Warner’s shot on goal deceive Midghall in the nets, with the netminder diving the wrong way as the puck found the back of the net. Heads were still refusing to drop for the short benched Phoenix side and had them still trying to come forwards.
Pat Bailey then took his second penalty of the game with a massive hit on a Phantoms player behind the play, this just seconds Karl Nicholson avoided the oncoming Peterborough man that got hit on the play. All credit to Manchester though, they never gave up and even forced Gaze to make another save from the visiting side, with the netminder keeping their two goal cushion going with just thirty seconds left.
Moving to the final period of play and it saw play breaking up a lot at centre ice and didn’t see really neither side dominating play as such. Peterborough grabbed their fourth goal of the game though, as that man Ty Christopher finally got on the scoreboard as he flipped his effort by the netminder for a 4-1 lead and in truth it was well deserved for the champions. With the game winding down it seemed like the whole Phantoms side grew in confidence during the match and looked to have righted a couple of wrongs from last weekend, with the title all but in their clutches now.
Manchester though still battled on and despite being 4-1 down they were never out of it, but the class of players in the Phantoms line up told the story. With the game all but over it saw both players having to sit out two minutes, as Manchester’s Karl Nicholson and Peterborough’s Matt Coleman, collected roughing calls towards to the end of the game but it wasn’t even handbags between the pair and more a tangle with equipment and trying to get free.
The game saw a couple of stand out performances by players on both sides in the game, Graham Wilson from the Phoenix had a very good in defence under heavy pressure from the Phantoms front line and saw him given the MVP for Manchester. While on the winning side, it saw Jon Le Galloudec acquitting himself very well and has been one of the unsung players in the league this year and has seen him come on in leaps and bounds from last season for the league champions.
Both players mentions collected the awards for their respective sides and saw the victory going to Peterborough and as previously mentioned, sees them having one hand on the title and close to regaining it for a third straight season. Manchester not though will now luck to their final league game in August where they’ll meet the Kingston Kestrels at home and hope to avenge their 7-3 loss in Humberside last month as they hope to consolidate third place in the table.
Belle Vue captain Scott Nicholls produced a magnificent performance this past Monday, as the seven times British champion rode to an impressive 13 points haul which helped him lead the Aces to 55-35 victory over fellow playoff contenders the King’s Lynn Stars.
Belle Vue hadn’t ridden for over a fortnight at home due to the inclement weather that Manchester is famous for and so these meetings in hand that the Aces have left to race at home, are imperative that they can collect points from them all. With it looking likely to be a shoot out between Swindon and the Aces for the all important fourth place in the end of season playoffs, it needed the hosts to take all points on offer in the meeting.
Things for Belle Vue didn’t get off to the best of starts, when they suffered an opening maximum from their opponents, when Niels Kristian Iversen and Nicklas Porsing kicking the meeting off with a 5-1 to the Stars. Scott Nicholls then became the first home rider to take a race win in heat three as the Aces captain had teammate Craig Cook finishing back in third place for a 4-2 advantage.
Two further 4-2 heat advantages for the home side, seen them levelling the match up before then taking the lead themselves as they led 16-14 after fives races gone. King’s Lynn then made it all square again through Iversen and Porsing as the King’s Lynn pairing picked up an advantage of their own to make the score 18-18 apiece.
Belle Vue then began to stamp their authority on the match with two successive 5-1’s, firstly with an incredible passing display by both Scott Nicholls and Matej Zagar in heat seven as both the Aces blew past Kenneth Bjerre down the back straight to register a maximum win. That was then followed up by Josh Grajczonek and Stefan Nielsen repeating the feat in a re run of the heat eight, as Stars Niclas Porsing fell off his bike on the opening bend and saw the rider put into an ambulance to be checked over before the racing could continue on after his heavy fall.
Another 4-2 for Belle Vue in heat Ten came courtesy of Nicholls and Cook, as they gave the Aces a ten points lead and so in the following race Stars boss Rob Lyon had to nominate Kenneth Bjerre for double points, with it being the final throw of dice so to speak and saw it not come off for the Norfolk side as Bjerre was held back by Matej Zagar and Max Fricke to see the home side extending their lead.
Steve Worrall picked up his first race win of the meeting in heat eleven, and in doing gave the Aces another step toward the victory. It could have been so much better for the Belle Vue too had Stefan Nielsen not lifted coming out of the last bend, after the reserve hit a grippy part of the track and whilst in second place ut saw him so a remarkably great job to avoid crashing into someone and staying on the bike too, but he was relegated to the back.
Matej Zagar got the better of his fellow Grand Prix rival in the battle of the big guns, when the Slovenian maestro led Niels Kristian Iversen on a merry four laps round the Kirkmanshulme Lane circuit. Zagar blew away the competition in the race, with his team mate Scott Nicholls doing well to fend off Vaclav Milik for the duration of the race to see Nicholls finish in third and see the Aces hit the magical 45 points barrier and record an important home victory over a playoff rival.
Kenneth Bjerre took the penultimate race win of the night, after the Danish rider rode round much like he did for the Aces back in the mid 00’s and seen him blasting of the traps and onto victory. In the final race of the night it saw a battling effort from Iversen for the entire race, with the Dane trying all parts of the Kirky Lane circuit to pass but it came to no avail and saw him falling off on the last lap as he tried a big blast round the boards on the first bend. As it was, the Aces recorded their fourth maximum heat win of the night and had the beating their opponents by twenty points in the match ahead of the return fixture this coming Wednesday down in Norfolk.
As we enter the Phoenix years, we start with the aftermath of the Manchester Storm demise and seen a group of people getting together to form the group FOMIH, (Friends of Manchester Ice Hockey) the task they set was to bring the game of the Ice Hockey back to the city and avoid no Hockey in the area. Neil Morris took over the reigns as owner of the newly named PHOENIX, and saw him appoint former Newcastle, Durham and Storm player in Rick Brebant as player coach. The Canadian was given the task of Coaching a team mixed with experience and players from the local area, as it started a new chapter of hockey in Manchester.
The opening game saw the Manchester Phoenix opening up their league campaign with a 4-0 home win over the London Racers at the MEN Arena, to see a good start for the new team in their inaugural season. A low point in the year was a massive loss handed out to them against the Coventry Blaze, but the flip side saw the Phoenix finishing sixth and was competitive. Phoenix also made a coaching change as former Cardiff Devils head coach in Paul Heavy took charge for the rest of the season.
Manchester made the Playoffs final weekend in Nottingham, before they were thrashed in the Semi-finals 6-1 by the hosts the Nottingham Panthers.
There has been an ongoing theme for the Phoenix over their entire history when it comes to playing without a home, as they couldn’t afford to play out of the Arena due to the low crowds they were getting in such a massive venue as the cost was a financial nightmare. So for two seasons the club mothballed and had no hockey in Manchester, which had fans having to watch hockey elsewhere for their fix. The Phoenix made a welcome return in the 2005-06 season where Great British legend Tony Hand was named as the third head coach in the Phoenix history and saw him putting together a fairly solid side.
Phoenix was forced to played on the road for a majority of the season, while their new home was in the process of being built in Altrincham and so saw Deeside and Ice Sheffield literally being their home away from home. Hand brought in two signings in mid February that seemed to help the side improve, in the form of Anthony Battaglia brother of NHL star Bates, who played for the Carolina Hurricanes, while other addition was in tough guy Brett Clouthier as he was cut from the Sheffield Steelers and Hand was quick swoop for him.
On February 25th 2007 the Phoenix moved into their new home the Altrincham Ice dome, but saw them lose out 5-4 to the Basingstoke Bison in their home opener. It took a fair few games to see them picking up their first ever win at the new building, and also took time to get used to their new surroundings. Phoenix reached the playoffs for the second time in a row, but was knocked out in the quarter-finals stage by the Cardiff Devils in a tight two legged affair.
The 2007-08 season was the last in the Elite League for the club after some disagreements behind the scenes with a couple of teams saw the Phoenix status become untenable, yet despite this they still achieved a second successive sixth placed finish. It had seen a promising new year for the Altrincham based side, with the Phoenix making it against the odds to two cup finals, both against the Belfast Giants and led to playing a schedule of a game almost every three days to make sure they fulfilled their league programme.
In the end they simply ran out of steam and lost both finals to the Giants and their league form dipped and slipped to sixth. Manchester then looked to the play-offs and faced their favoured opponents over the season in the Nottingham Panthers. Phoenix had a better record against the Panthers in the regular season and was their preferred choice in the play-offs. Sadly though Nottingham beat the Phoenix and saw a season in which they were very much punching above their weight in the Season.
Manchester then moved to the EPL (English Premier League) in 2008-09 season, where it saw them and fellow Elite alumni the Basingstoke Bison moving together. A season of the unknown took place for the side, as they had no clue of what to expect from the league and saw the Phoenix finish in 5th place and edged out the Peterborough Phantoms in a thrilling quarter finals to reach the playoff finals weekend. Manchester though lost out to the eventual winners the Slough Jets in the semi finals, going down 2-1.
Phoenix took their first ever league title the next season, as they beat off the Guildford Flames in a tense title run in as they completed the success in the final home game against the Swindon Wildcats. When the playoffs came around it saw yet more disappointment in Coventry for the Phoenix side, as a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to MK Lightning had seen them peg it back after being 2-0 down with a brace of goals in final two minutes. Leigh Jamieson scored an overtime winner to put Manchester out and was a successful season despite the loss.
Manchester had a couple of seasons that saw them up there but faltered in retaining the title or regaining it, however the playoffs saw them break their final duck, with a heart stopping 6-5 shootout win over the Sheffield Steeldogs saw them progressing to the final, but once again they fell at the final hurdle losing out again to the Slough Jets in a one sided final.
The next year saw them go one better, after another tough semi final battle against the Basingstoke Bison and won an amazing shootout thanks to James Archer netting the winner. Manchester met the Guildford Flames and sealed their first Playoff title with a victory over the Flames 5-2, with two strikes by Czech forward Michal Psurny giving Manchester the trophy.
For the 2013-14 season, it had the Phoenix lifting their second league title in the club’s history after a nail biting title decider against their rivals for the title the Basingstoke Bison at Altrincham and seen Manchester win 5-2 and spark off wild celebrations at the end of the game.
For the fifth successive season in a row it saw the Phoenix falling at the semifinals stage yet again, in what as a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Milton Keynes Lightning and kept their tag of being’ ‘Always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ when it came to the EPL Cup.
Come playoff time though and it saw them reaching the Playoff final for a third time and came up against a highly motivated Bison side, who gained revenge over the Phoenix for their title loss as they beat them convincingly to become double winners. The game also coincided with the retirement of former NHL defenseman in the Phoenix ranks of Robert Schnabel, with the Czech giant heading back home to Prague.
Last year was one the worst seasons I’ve witnessed, with the team finishing in sixth position in the table and was also their lowest ever placed finish in the EPL since moving to the league. With ‘Schnabs’ retired, it meant the side needed to bring in new blood and the signing of an Import D man was vital to try and at best cushion the loss of the big man. Sadly what they brought in was a well below standards player that looked massively out of his depth in the EPL and also in a majority of other hockey leagues i hazard to guess.
A late signing by Tony Hand who normally finds gems late in the day, but instead signed a dud in Swede Johan Burlin. At first glance fans looked in awe of him and looked like a player that not many opponents would argue with, Instead he proved to be arguably the biggest flop not only for Phoenix but in the history of Manchester hockey in my honest opinion. A defenseman that was unable to defend and was so badly caught out of position every time, that his teammates had to cover for his usual lapses and would be fair to say I was never a fan of his either.
Despite the previous season where the side looked cohesive and was scoring goals for fun, this past year was more like they had hardly met each other before and that passing was rare ability. The three Czech Imports that led the way to the title in 2013-14 season, that being Michal Psurny, Robin Kovar and Frankie Bakrlik, last term it saw them struggle to replicate their exploits and all had particularly poor seasons by their high standards. Manchester made it through to another playoffs weekend and for the fifth time in a row, the Phoenix reached the final and faced the Peterborough Phantoms.
Manchester head coach Tony Hand MBE announced pre season that he would bow out after the season and this would have been a perfect way to cap his career off with one last trophy. Peterborough over the regular season had the Indian sign over the Phoenix, with the Phantoms winning five out of the six games and continued the trend on with the East Anglian side running out 5-2 victors in the final to take the title and have Phoenix not for the first time in the season runners-up, after having previously lost to the Telford Tigers in the EPL Cup.
The weekend was a mixed one for the Phoenix, as one hand they reached the final after no one gave them a chance of getting there, but it was overshadowed by the now ‘well known’ post put out seconds after Manchester had booked their place in the play-off final, as on a British Ice hockey forum it saw a statement from Silverblades basically saying that hockey will be back in September but not the Phoenix.
This as many of you know has seen arguments and statements put out left, right and centre from all parties involved, that being Planet Ice Ltd, Silverblades as a joint one and then Manchester Phoenix through Red Hockey Media which took a 34% stake in the club towards last season along with the addition of the Bracknell Bees as well. Red Hockey Media is a group that is owned by Wayne Scholes who is the owner of the Telford Tigers Hockey club and has spent big in reversing the fortunes of the Shropshire club, almost a rags to riches story so to speak.
There had been alleged arguments between Scholes and Planet Ice in the past, also there has been Neil Morris the Phoenix owner having his own running battles with the heads of the Silver Blades rink in Altrincham. During the playoffs weekend in Coventry it all came to a head and this story has run and run and then dragged and dragged, it has had more legs on it then a millipede.
Also the way it has it been portrayed by some people on-line, you would think that this was like some storyline from the WWE, as the way it seems to be. There has been public meetings with one announcing on the same night and has been a kind of tit for tat move that saw one the biggest news stories of the summer, with the return of the Manchester Storm coming back to the Ice this upcoming September and playing not only in the ELITE LEAGUE but also out of the Altrincham Ice dome.
It has seen this kind of momentum swing with those at the head of this whole situation, making it truly feel like a wrestling storyline and messy too. Personally for me the longer this has been drawn out, the more I’ve not particularly missed September coming that quickly and people on both sides of the fence have accused the other of causing problems. This has caused a lot of friction with Manchester fans, and has been a case who the normally good humoured hockey fans now becoming bitter and some showing resentment to the other side during this whole ordeal.
The whole situation has led to legal proceedings taking place and been messy from the outside looking in and with accusations made about the Phoenix owner Neil Morris on money issues, it can only get more messy you feel down the line. On the hockey front of things, a decision was made to play out of Deeside for the upcoming season for Phoenix, while the club awaits to get their new rink sorted out and long term future secured with RED Hockey helping out. One thing that has grated on me in this whole scenario is the way you must be in one of the two camps, you are either PHOENIX or STORM. I`ve mentioned to friends and others that I am a fan of ALL Manchester hockey teams and that I am not getting dragged into the whole picking favourites. I will support the Phoenix,Storm,Aces,Tornados, sledge side and Women sides too!
During this off season I have flip flopped from one to the other when reading statements or other things, and this left many friends I know disillusioned with the game and taking a break from it. This will seem very controversial coming from me in what I am about to say, but as those that know me very well, I am not the most controversial person you’ll come across in your life. However, taking the early disagreements out of the equation and moving forward, I’d have to say in my opinion and from statements I’ve read, one side has come out and tried to get on with things and that has been the Storm.
While an argument can be made that Phoenix have been sorting out venues and legal proceeding, the Storm who replaced them at the ice dome have gone about their business hiring very well, especially bringing in the experience of Neil Russell from the Belfast Giants,as he was one of many people over in Northern Ireland that helped put Belfast firmly on the hockey map. Along with him they have the Great British coach in Pete Russell and MK Lightning coach in the EPL as well, as the Scotsman will be helping out in a way to bounce ideas off the new player-coach Omar Pacha.
Phoenix have been pretty quiet with their plans for a few week now after the big blow out Storm and have at times shot themselves in the foot with some almost cryptic statements being posted during this off season. Speaking to people from other clubs and even some Phoenix fans to, even they have struggled to fathom out what these statements are all about, with some using the phrase.’Huh?! which sums up how effective they have been.’. For this season at least, it seems the move to Deeside is either going to be the final rites for the Phoenix or a damaged limitation one for them and a taking a big hit and hoping to recoup it back once the new home is up and built. However, with not many fans finding it viable for personal reasons to get to North Wales during the season, it will be a fun time for all associated in things Hockey between the Storm and the Phoenix. But as i started saying in part one about hockey in Manchester and to borrow a quote from the wrestler Sting and slightly alter it, ‘The Only thing sure for Manchester Hockey…. Is that Nothing’s for sure!’.
An absolutely absorbing game in the British Sledge Hockey League saw the Manchester Phoenix and reigning league champions in Peterborough Phantoms, playing out a thrilling 2-2 draw with a hint of controversy thrown in to boot.
Both sides came into the contest looking to win for different reasons. Victory for Phoenix would see them go level on points with the league leaders and if the Phantoms took the win, it would see them stretching their lead to four points at the top of the Sledge Hockey table. From the off it saw the double winners in the Phantoms showing just why they are the current reigning champions, as they started the better of the two sides with a couple of early chances falling their way, but was continually denied by the man of the Match for Manchester in netminder Steve Midghall.
The hosts managed to force their way back into the match thanks to their their defense thwarting their opposition and seeing some attacks starting to happen, but in truth had both sides defences very much on top and had neither team giving up any easy chances for their opponents. Peterborough then found themselves getting behind the Phoenix defence, as they broke away on a very rare sight of a 4 on 0 attack, but a misplaced pass saw the move come to nothing. Phoenix netminder Steve Midghall was at it again soon after, as he managed to pluck the puck from thin air to see the scoreboard remaining scoreless.
Then at 7.41 into this fast paced contest, the home side scored against the run of play with Phoenix forward Karl Nicholson. It all came from a cut out a pass by Nicholson in his own zone and after Rob Allen played it back to Nicholson, he played it off the sideboards to see the Phoenix man dashing up ice and putting it in with a neat finish by Robin Gaze for 1-0.
A bizarre occurrence saw the opening period overrun by an extra 45 seconds, and saw the Phoenix having to defend very well at the end of the period. In the second period of play, it saw both teams trying to get a foothold in the game with neither side really grabbing a hold of the game and being a pretty even defensive battle. Manchester then caused problems in the Phantoms zone and had Nicholson nearly making it two as his effort struck the pipework to see the visitors breathe a sigh of relief.
Peterborough’s Darren Brown collected a Teeing penalty at 24.01 as a hit on Karl Nicholson saw referee Kris Wells deem it a penalty and gave the Phoenix a short lived power play, as Pat Bailey then picked up a Boarding call 17 seconds later which cancelled out the man advantage. Midghall then made an absolutely stunning save from Phantoms forward Ty Christopher to see him frustrating the visitors as they were pushing hard for a tying goal. In the final embers of the period it saw Midghall yet again taking the applause from those in attendance, with a save to deny the visitors in what looked like a almost certain goal and had the Phantoms bench jumping in what they thought was a goal too.
Moving to the final period and it saw the game played in two sections, the first half was a tight contest and second half was a free for all. From the rarity of a 4 on 1 in the first period we then saw an entire line on a 5 on 1, but saw Graham Wilson making a last ditch stop and stopped the Phantoms getting back on level terms.
Eventually the pressure and saves from Midghall couldn’t continue and saw Ty Christopher scoring with a nice effort that saw the helmet of Steve Midghall come off during the tying goal of the game for the Phantoms. Darren Brown picked up his first of two assists in the game as the Christopher goal came at 35.41 and saw Peterborough moving up a gear and which nearly brought them a go ahead goal, but again the Phoenix defence came up huge.
Manchester then retook the lead less than two minutes later, when Anthony Booth moved in on goal and saw a push on him at the front of the net which had him bump into the Phantoms netminder Robin Gaze during play and with the play seemingly at an end, the referee gave a goal as he saw the puck over the line. This led to angry protests from the visitors, after they claimed the goaltender had it covered prior to a whistle.
Peterborough channelled their anger and hit back a couple of minutes later themselves, through Kieran O’ Meara as when Steve Midghall was stranded on the ice and with the smallest of gaps at the back post, it gave O’Meara the chance to put in and peg the Phoenix back at 2-2.
As the game neared the end, both teams had to kill off respective penalties, as Pat Bailey was called for Teeing and then Callum Shakespeare was penalised for same offense. Both teams had chances to win the game and had neither side wanted to give up any goal scoring opportunities to their opponents in the dying moments. This was a truly seesaw matchup, in which had play going one way and then the other and so when the horn blew to signal the end, it had both teams shattered from giving every bit of energy they had in an absorbing and entertaining match from start to finish.
After the match Ty Christopher and Darren Brown were both given ten minutes each, one for misconduct and another for unsportsmanlike conduct. Both sides will look to recover quickly ahead of the return fixture down in Peterborough’s barn next weekend, where they will renew acquaintances.
MANCHESTER CITY WOMEN 1 – 0 BIRMINGHAM CITY LADIES
Manchester City Women got their FA Women’s Superleague campaign back on track after the recent successful World Cup break for the England’s women, with England star Toni Duggan scoring the only goal of the game to give the Citizens a 1-0 win over Birmingham City ladies at the Academy Stadium in front of the biggest crowd of season of 2,102.
The match comprised eight of the Lionesses that claimed a historic bronze medal for England at the Recent World Cup in Canada a couple of weeks ago. City fielded their quintet of players in the match with goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, Defenders Lucy Bronze and England captain Steph Houghton and also midfielder Jill Scott and striker Toni Duggan. Birmingham themselves had their own England heroines from the World Cup in the side with captain Jade Moore, Jo Potter and Karen Carney who scored the winner against Norway in the second round.
A big crowd turned out at the impressive Academy Stadium to welcome back their heroines from their World Cup exploits over in Canada. Those fans wearing the sky blue of Manchester City sat in the stands, were hoping that the Lionesses could transfer their international form back into the league ahead of this game. To begin with it saw a fairly scrappy game with Birmingham as their opponents made some forceful challenges shall we say, and that made life tough for the home side at the beginning.
City nearly took a lead early in the game after a fantastic diagonal ball put over the Birmingham back line by Kathleen Radtke and it saw Welsh international Natasha Harding running onto the ball and saw her effort on goal pushed away for a corner kick.
Sadly for Harding though she was forced off through injury after a heavy tackle on the striker and seen Krystle Johnson coming on to take her place after a quarter of an hour gone in the game. Minutes later and Jennifer Beattie had a header go just over the bar and had the home side giving Birmingham many problems, but they just weren’t able to convert on their chances. Nikita Parris then got her legs taken from her in the penalty area for a stonewall penalty, but the match referee Aaron Jackson waved it off with the boos coming from the home crowd as they let the referee what they thought of the decision.
England number one and City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley wasn’t called upon much in the contest as her whole defense was solid throughout the game and closed down the Birmingham attack of Freda Ayisi and Kirsty Linnett with some ease. The visitors did show glimpses of what they could do but the home side was always there to clear and cut out the passes that their visitors tried to make. They did come close with a Coral-Jane Haines free kick towards the end of the half, as her effort outside the area just clipped the top of the crossbar. Just before the break, the home side had a corner and seen a cluster of Birmingham players scramble to head it off the line to avoid conceding.
After the halftime break, the home side carried on their attacking play as they dominated the visitors, with a chance early on that went begging for Krystle Johnson, but the striker could only drill it straight at the keeper. City skipper Steph Houghton saw her effort go over to see the hosts miss out on another chance, but the imminent threat of a goal was always there by the home side and saw them getting closer with every attack. Finally City broke the deadlock after a strong driving run by Jill Scott saw her using her strength to fend off tackles from the opposing defenders and then expertly put a ball across the face of goal to the awaiting Toni Duggan and she gave the Citizens a thoroughly deserved lead after 55 minutes.
Birmingham came back at the hosts but it they were forced to shooting from long range efforts with Kirsty Linette and Melissa Lawley failing to find the target. The travelling Blues then introduced another World Cup star in the match, when Karen Carney came on and straight away caused a fair few problems for the home side with her play. City almost scored a team goal that was straight out of the Brazilian textbook with their attacking play, as flicks and some neat one-two’s between the Sky blues side, saw the ball come towards Isobael Christiansen and the diminutive forward just couldn’t find the target.
Nikita Parris then had a one on one chance to finish the game off for the home side but Becky Spencer made herself big in the penalty area to make an important save from the striker to see the ball out for a corner. Birmingham ladies pushed hard one last time in search of an equaliser, but the defensive display of City especially from captain Steph Houghton made sure that the home side claimed three valuable points in the league and hope to have kick started their second half to the season.
Having watched Ice Hockey in Manchester for over twenty-years – I think it’s fair to say that I’ve seen quite a lot happen over the years while watching this great sport, whether it was watching the original Manchester Storm side from 1995 – up until their demise in 2002 and then the rising of a new club in the Manchester Phoenix, or even the return of the Storm name in 2015 and the demise then of the Phoenix.
So here is my little trip back down memory lane as a Manchester hockey fan, with some up’s and a fair few down’s that I’ve encountered watching this sport for nearly twenty-three years.
(NOTE: this is from memory, so stand to be corrected)
Starting right at the beginning, we head to the heady summer of 1995, where the Outhere Brothers had the hit song ‘BoomBoomBoom’ as the summer hit and Oasis had ‘Roll with it’ and M-People with ‘Search for the hero’.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, a brand spanking new building had been built within the grounds of Victoria train station and was to have been one of the main venues pencilled in as part of Manchester’s 2000 Olympic games bid that sadly failed. The Nynex Arena as it was called (now the Manchester Arena) was the biggest indoor arena in the UK at that time and held an open day to get approved and also used it as a way to introduce the two sports sides that would be playing out of this new Arena in Manchester.
Those two teams in question were the Manchester Giants Basketball team, which was a well-known sporting side to the city and on a shorter scale was the Ice Hockey team named the Manchester Storm.
At this point, I’ll point a couple of things out: firstly – I don’t think a majority of people that turned up knew much about ice hockey and secondly – (especially from interviews in the past that I have read at least) they all made reference to the Giants (basketball) being seen as the main team at the arena and the Hockey side was not seen as a huge thing. The Ogden group – who were the main people in control of the Nynex when it first started up, thought that it would be a good idea to have another sports teams played out of there, and so with Ogden having links with the Ottawa Senators in the NHL – it was decided that they would try and put an Ice hockey team together as well.
The origin of the Storm was that they were formed from the former Trafford Metros side to become this new side in the Manchester Storm after the 1994-95 season. Wheels were set in motion for the new side, with the then unnamed Manchester team approaching the then Cardiff Devils coach in John Lawless for the new job having just seen his side lose out in the playoffs, and the Canadian accepted the job and brought in Daryl Lipsey from the Swindon Wildcats and began to piece together the team.
August 19th 1995, saw the Manchester Storm playing in their first-ever game against the British league champions at the time in the Sheffield Steelers as part of a three-day Invitational Tournament down at Milton Keynes. It saw Mark Stokes having his name etched in Storm history – as he became the first man to score for the club as part of their 11-3 loss to Sheffield. A better showing of sorts saw the Manchester side losing 9-3 to Nottingham and the following day saw Manchester recording their first ever win, as they beat the hosts Milton Keynes Kings 9-6 with Hilton Ruggles grabbing a hat-trick in the victory.
From there, it saw the side in competitive games in what was back at that time the traditional B&H Cup group games and saw player-coach John Lawless becoming the first Storm player to score in a competitive game for the club, even though they came out on the wrong end of a 6-4 loss down at Telford. Their first-ever home game played at the Nynex Arena came on September 15th, 1995, and was against the Telford Tigers and ended in a six-all draw with 10,034 in attendance. The first league game at home saw the Dumfries Border Vikings as the first visiting side and saw Manchester winning 6-2 with Dale ‘Shotgun’ Jago scoring the first goal at the Nynex Arena.
As the profile of the team grown in the city, so did the crowd numbers. And in early November of 95, it saw Sky Sports coming up to Manchester to screen the clash between their local rivals in the Blackburn Hawks. It was felt like this whole night was to show off this new Manchester Ice Hockey side to a new audience, but instead, it saw the side humbled on live tv, with Blackburn outperforming and outplaying their North West rivals in a 12-9 victory that featured ex-Trafford Metros in their line-up in; Paul Fleury and the late Oleg Sinkov.
One name that would feature against the Storm a couple years later and scored a hat-trick in that game was a certain Mr Ryan Kummu, more on him later.
The following game, saw my first taste of live Ice hockey, as on November 12th 1995, the Storm faced the Telford Tigers and a side that I will discuss much further down the road in the second part of this feature during the Phoenix years. However, on this night, the home side prevailed winning 9-5 and saw my first hockey hero in Hilton ‘The Poacher’ Ruggles. Ruggles netted six goals in the game and I recall getting home and pestering my parents to go to again and from that moment, I was basically hooked from that point onwards.
Records were breaking left, right and centre that season. The attendance record got smashed a few times, plus winning the league title and finishing with 99-league points in their debut-season was unbelievable. From there, they added Play-off success too their resume, as they topped the group that consisted of the Swindon Wildcats, the now-defunct Dumfries Border Vikings and the Slough Jets. Back then, the playoffs saw the bottom two teams in the Premier Division facing sides in Div 1 to either stay in the league or be relegated.
Slough was one of the bottom two sides in the top flight – along with Milton Keynes, who played in the other group. Manchester won all but one of the group games that they were in, as Dumfries inflicted their only defeat, but the Storm showed their future was bright with a big 7-2 win at the ‘Hanger’ down at Slough.
In truth, they were massively too good for that league and was running up massive score lines in games, including the infamous 26-3 win over the Solihull Barons that season, in what was a bad-tempered game that saw a fair few ejections handed out and stood as the biggest win in the clubs history.
The 1996-97 season saw a new dawning for British Ice Hockey beginning to happen, with the formation of the new ‘Super League’ starting up and was looked at as the UK version of the NHL. It saw the crowds at averages about 4-6,000 a game and see the likes of well-established teams like the Cardiff Devils, Nottingham Panthers and the side from over the Pennines in the Sheffield Steelers bringing a lot of fans with them to away games.
It was definitely a roller coaster season for us Storm fans that year, as we opened the ‘Superleague era’ live on TV against Sheffield, and suffered a 6-1 loss with Brad Zavisha scoring the sole goal. It set the tone for what would be a frustrating year for Manchester, as forward Shawn Byram left the club following a ‘heated disagreement’ with the head coach at that time in John Lawless after a game and saw the tall Canadian heading to pastures new in Austria.
Going back to a name I mentioned earlier in Ryan Kummu, on 28th of November 1996, Manchester made the trip up north of the border to face Ayr and at old Centrum Arena for a Superleague encounter and was also broadcasted live on Sky television.
During the second period, Kummu and Hilton Ruggles who had some previous in the past then decided to have a little wrestle by the boards and saw both players serving penalties in the box.
However, later in the period, it saw Kummu wanting to carry things on and ended up with him in the Manchester penalty box and seeing a brawl involving the two and saw linesmen and referee needing to get involved and saw the sides sent away to their locker rooms, while the Ayr man was kept in the Storm penalty box till ice was clear. Unsurprisingly, the Storm fans booed Kummu each time he came to play in Manchester after that incident.
As I said, an up and down year ended with a couple of memorable games towards the end of the regular season, including a 6-5 win over the Bracknell Bees, that saw the Storm trailing 4-3 with two minutes left and three late goals saw them overcoming the Bees to win.
Of course, there was the now infamous ‘Sell Out’ game against the Sheffield Steelers at home and saw the biggest crowd ever for a British league game, as 17,245 people watched on as the Storm avenged their opening day loss to the Steelers at the start of the season to then win 6-2 in the live televised game in the final game of the league campaign.
The 97-98 season started with a brand new coach at the helm for the side, as American Kurt Kleinendors was brought in to help the Storm challenge on the domestic and European front, and also had the Storm granted a wildcard slot into the short-lived European Hockey League (EHL) tournament for a second straight year. They had a tough group with Bolzano HC of Italy, Sparta Prague from the Czech Republic and one of the biggest names in European and World hockey in Dynamo Moscow.
An overtime loss in Bolzano gave the Storm their first ever point in Europe and then that up with another overtime loss, this time at home against Dynamo Moscow – with the Russians coming out 3-2 winners. However, they picked up back to back wins over Sparta Prague, with Jeff Jablonski netting the game-winning goal in Prague to win 4-3, then shut the Czech side out 7-0 as they destroyed the Czech champions. A 9-3 loss in Russia – meant that they couldn’t qualify, but they signed off with a 4-2 win over Bolzano HC to gain revenge for their opening day loss in the competition.
As far as the league was concerned, they secured their highest ever finish in the top flight to date, only to be pipped by the eventual Grand Slam winning Ayr Scottish Eagles side of that year and looked to use that disappointment to spur them on the following year.
Altered Logo: Credit: STORM HISTORY
In 1998-99 the Storm took the league title but had the following
. Most goals than any other team.
· Conceded fewer goals than any other team.
· Had the best Penalty Killing record.
· Had the best Powerplay record.
and the league’s best netminder in Frankie Pietrangelo.
It is my view that this was the best Storm side ever in their history. It also had the immortal words spoken by Brad Rubachuk on the championship success; “Number One, Baby, Number One!”.
However, It wasn’t all good though. As towards the back end of the season, it saw Brad Rubachuk picking up a career-ending injury down at Bracknell and brought an abrupt end to his career following an accidental collision with Bracknell’s Paxton Schulte. It saw the Bees player coming out of the penalty box and had him colliding with ‘Ruby’ who was skating at full speed head first and sustained a neck injury that sadly forced the forward into early retirement. During the playoffs, it saw Manchester adding a #41 sticker on all their helmets to show support for their injured teammate.
For the 1999-2000 season, it saw a very disappointing year for the defending champions, but they did manage to capture some silverware – as they beat the London Knights in a thrilling B&H Cup final at the Sheffield Arena, as netminder Frankie Pietrangelo – became the hero stopping all five penalties faced and had Rick Brebant scoring the only goal of the shoot-out to see the Storm crowned winners.
As the Millennium came around, it saw the club going through a change itself with a change of coach with Kurt Kleinendorst heading back to the U.S to take up a role with the New Jersey Devils as backroom staff – while also getting new owners in SMG Europe. Terry Christensen was the man brought in to fill the big shoes of ‘K.K’ as Christensen came from the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). The change of ownership seemed to signal the end of the success for the club moving forward, with the SMG Europe takeover it began to see a decline for both the Manchester teams playing out of the Arena in the Storm and Giants.
Now, It would be unfair to say that one man can bring down a club down, but they have a hand in it. And in my personal view, Christensen managed to destroy everything within the club in his ONLY season in charge at the Storm. Despite the signings of Doug Doull and Kevin Brown pre-NHL, they both failed to make an impact and from reading interviews with former players that worked under him, they all spoke out about his amateur approach to things like training and dealing with players too.
One article that I came across, was with a former fan favourite at Manchester in the current Montreal Canadiens Strength and conditioning coach, Pierre Allard. He was interviewed in the Manchester Evening News a few years ago and spoke out about what went on behind the scenes while Christensen was in charge and it seemed pretty damning.
“Every game was like the play-off’s and we did win the championship. When Kurt left, it left a big hole in the club and the biggest mistake for sure was hiring Terry Christensen as coach. That guy destroyed hockey in Manchester”.
“He did not have anywhere near Kurt’s stature and before long the crowds started to drift away.
He was full of bull. He always promised things and never delivered them. He did not know anything about my background and did not bother to find out. He did not know I played for the French national team”.
“One day he came to practice and asked where I was. I had told him the week before I was away on international duty but he just did not listen.
He destroyed hockey in one year. The crowds went down and people lost their affinity for the team.”
Manchester went on to finish in seventh place and as stated above, the crowds dwindled fast with the style of hockey and fans voted with their feet. Christensen also seemed to have no respect or have any clue about the game outside of North America. His tactics were poor and that fact that he seemed to have disdain towards the fans and seemingly looked down at everyone in a non-hockey country, really saw him isolating himself from the Storm fans and even managed to rip the heart out of the team with off-ice arguments with players and refused to connect with the fans.
In the last full season that the club played in, there were financial and off-ice problems hitting the team hard, and it began to cripple the side too. Thankfully, Daryl Lipsey was given the reigns as Head Coach with Christensen going back to his former club and saw Lipsey being the only Storm official to have been part of the organisation from day one to the day they folded.
It was hoped the move would settle the team and entice fans back to watch the Storm, but sadly that never happened. Manchester finished bottom of the table and saw the whole league sinking and trying to plug gaps during the season, with Newcastle and Cardiff pulling out and saw a knock-on effect with Ayr and London getting into trouble as well.
A late push in the playoffs saw Manchester somehow making it through to the Playoff grand final against Sheffield and saw the Yorkshire club edging the Storm in a 4-3 shoot-out, as what is regarded by Manchester fans as a controversial game and saw the equalising goal deemed as offside by many fans at the game.
MANCHESTER STORM 1995 – 2002
The bleak future surrounding the Manchester Storm came to a head in November 2002, as the doors were closed on Ice hockey in Manchester for the immediate future with fans and sponsors losing a lot of money with the demise of the club and had the then owner at the time in Gary Cowan, being seen as the main contributors to the club finally folding.
ROLL OF HONOUR:
British League Division 1 winners – 1995-96
Superleague Winners – 1998–99
Benson and Hedges Cup Winners (former Autumn Cup) 1999
Slovenian Grand Prix star Matej Zagar and Australian Josh Grajczonek helped ‘plunder’ a victory from the Poole Pirates last Monday night after the Belle Vue side battled back from ten points behind and shown their newly installed confidence coming to the fore once again this season resulting in a 49-44 win over the league champions.
Poole had a stunning start to the meeting though as the Pirates led 9-3 after three races gone with Davey Watt and Chris Holder getting a 4-2 in the opening heat and that was followed up with a 5-1 in a re-run of heat 2 as Kyle Newman and Paul Starke secured a 5-1 to give them a good platform to build on. Another 5-1 by the Pirates in Heat 3 from Dakota North and Maciej Janowski gave the visitors a ten point lead in the match and the Aces were being left for dead at the traps by their opponents. Heat four saw the home side respond ironically through Poole’s asset Josh Grajczonek leading the way, as him and Stefan Nielsen scored a huge 5-1 to give the Aces a way back into the contest it seemed at that stage. Max Fricke followed his fellow Aussie in taking the next heat but has his team mate squeezed out at the back of the pack and the hosts had to settle for a 3-3.
Poole came back empathically in heat 6 through Maciej Janowski and Chris Holder as the pairing got out a brilliant start and team rode to a 5-1 to restore the ten point gap that the Pirates had lost a couple of heats before. Belle Vue Team Manager Mark Lemon knew he had to do something big to avoid the visitors from pulling away to far in the match and so he nominated Matej Zagar in the Black and White helmet to go for double points in heat 7. That race saw a jet propelled start by both the home riders and resulted in Aces staying put and securing an 8-1 heat advantage to see the score transform from 23-13 to now 24-21 to the Pirates and put the Aces right back in the contest.
Heat 9 then saw the home side taking the lead for the first time in the match, with a 5-1 through Steve Worrall and Max Fricke as they got the better of Kyle Newman and Kasper Gomolski as Gomolski struggled horribly with the Belle Vue track and saw him fall out for the third times in the match. Poole aren’t champions for no reason and they responded to the challenge of the hosts as they nailed a 5-1 right back with the Australian pairing of Chris Holder and Davey Watt making up for a poor first attempt, but in the re-run the Pirates duo came out flying and saw them see the away side leading once again at 33-30. Matej Zagar and Maciej Janowski had a brilliant race against other in heat 11 as they passed each other a couple of times during the race and ended with the Slovenian taking the chequered flag ahead of the Polish rider for a 4-2 advantage with Fricke sitting in third.
In the big guns race of heat thirteen, it saw the home side score a 4-2 with Chris Holder splitting up the Aces pairing of Matej Zagar and Scott Nicholls where Nicholls tailgated Holder for the whole race and needed Holder to have eyes in the back of his head to keep the Belle Vue captain out and see the hosts retake the lead at 41-40. Belle Vue all but won the meeting in the penultimate race as Josh Grajczonek shown his parent club once again what they were missing out on as he and Craig Cook combined for a 5-1 to see the Aces move 46-41 points up with a race to go the situation needed the two home riders to not finish in the final race for the Pirates to win the meeting.
For the final race of the night it saw a repeat of last week’s meeting, with Zagar and Grajczonek was nominated for the hosts, while Janowski and Holder were the Pirates nominated riders for last race of the night. The first run saw the Poole riders collide and had the match referee deem Chris Holder as the cause of the stoppage and saw him excluded in the re-run. At the second time of asking it saw the sole Poole man getting out ahead of the Aces pair and stay out in front for the whole race to see a shared race and give the losing Poole side a bonus point for finishing within seven points of the hosts winning margin.
Both sides have riders with an important date circle in their calendars for this Saturday as Belle Vue’s Matej Zagar and Craig Cook along with Poole’s Chris Holder and Maciej Janowski all ride in the big meeting at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday Night as three of them look in search of important Championship points, while Cook takes his place as a Wildcard for the British Grand Prix meeting after securing it back in the British Final a few weeks ago.
1. Matej Zagar 2 6^ 3 3 2 =16
2. Max Fricke 0 3 2* 1 =6+1
3. Craig Cook 0 1 1 2* =4+1
4. Josh Grajczonek 3 0 3 3 1* =10+1
5. Scott Nicholls 1 2* X 1 =4+1
6. Steve Worrall X 0 3 1* =4+1
7. Stefan Nielsen 1 2* 0 2 =5+1
1. Chris Holder 1 2* 3 2 X =8+1
2. Davey Watt 3 2 2 2* =9+1
3. Dakota North 3 1 0 0 =4
4. Kacper Gomolski 0 0 F =0
5. Maciej Janowski 2* 3 2 0 3 =10+1
6. Paul Starke 2* 1* 1* 0 =4+3
7. Kyle Newman 3 1 1 3 1 =9
An enthralling contest between the Belle Vue Aces and the Coventry Bees saw the two side’s race out a 45 all draw at Kirkmanshulme Lane in which saw the lead flip flop on four different occasions during the meeting. Belle Vue had failed to beat their Midlands rivals in the previous five outings which dated back to 2013, plus this was also the first home meeting for the Aces in seven weeks after disruption from the weather and the World Cup taking place recently too.
The opening two races saw drawn races with Bees reserve and Droylsden lad Jason Garrity in them both, after Stuart Robson was excluded for a two minute infraction which saw Garrity come in to replace Robson and then had him suffer with a bike problem off the line. In the following heat Garrity struggled again and saw him off the pace from the other riders as his team mate Paul Starke held off the Aces duo for the win. Heat 3 saw the first time a team led in the meeting and came courtesy of a 4-2 from the home side as former Coventry man Scott Nicholls was involved in a great race with his GB rival Chris Harris as Nicholls used all his experience to keep out Harris from passing him over the four laps with Craig Cook taking third place.
Coventry made it all square in the next race as a re-run was needed after Belle Vue’s Stefan Nielsen tried to make a move and saw him go down in the first attempt, in the re-run it saw Danny King and Paul Starke picking up a 4-2 for the Bees with Aces new boy Josh Grajczonek picking up a second place to split the pairing. Another good race in heat 5 saw another shared heat with Max Fricke losing his momentum on the second bend and that allowed Robson to come by him and take the race win. With the Bees winning four of the opening five races of the contest, it looked set to be fifth race win in a Coventry race jacket as the strong Coventry pairing of Harris and Hans Andersen came out in heat 6 to see the former Aces duo score a 5-1 maximum for the visitor’s and have the score 20-16 in favour of the Bees.
Matej Zagar and Scott Nicholls helped cut the away side’s lead down to just two points after they scored a 4-2 in heat 7, Aussie Josh Grajczonek then picked up a huge race win in the next race and that inspired his team mates to get a 4-2 in the following race through Steve Worrall and Max Fricke to make it level at 27 all. Danish rider Hans Andersen shown he still likes the ‘Kirky Lane’ circuit as he made it three wins from three in Heat 10, with the Aces pair of Nicholls and Cook finding him untouchable in the meeting as he put on a racing clinic in the his three opening rides.
Heat 11 saw the home side regain the lead once more in the match, this time it was Slovenian Matej Zagar and Max Fricke flying from the gates to leave the Bees blown away as the hosts scored a big 5-1 at the business end of the meeting. In the second reserves race, Coventry pulled it right back as Jason Garrity finally came to the party for the visitor’s as he and Starke returned the favour as they picked up a 5-1 themselves in heat 12 to see the score 36-36 with three races left.
Heat 13 saw in the big race Harris and Andersen showing the Belle Vue pairing of Nicholls and Zagar a clean pair of heels so to speak, as they claimed a 5-1 to see the lead change once more in favour of the Bees at 41-37. Belle Vue needed a good result in the penultimate race to see the Aces having any chance of taking anything from this meeting at all and had Craig Cook and Josh Grajczonek come up trumps, as they scored a 5-1 after the Aussie rode the fence quite literally to see him come pass King and see the scores level going into the final race of the night at 42-42.
Belle Vue’s Ace Team Manager threw in a slight surprise when he put Grajczonek in the final race to partner Zagar, as they face the formidable pairing of Harris and Andersen who had blown away the opposition in their previous two races in the match. Zagar made the gate ahead of Harris and more importantly Grajczonek had passed Andersen up the inside and saw the Aces on a 4-2 advantage an would be enough for a huge win in the match. However ‘Bomber’ Harris got by Zagar and saw the race stay that way and made for a fair result over the meeting as the two sides battled hard and you couldn`t separate them after fifthteen races of brilliant speedway to see the sides take a draw.
Belle Vue 45
1. Matej Zagar 1* 3 3 0 2 =9+1 2. Max Fricke 2 2 1 2* =7+1 3. Craig Cook 1 1 2 3 =7 4. Josh Grajczonek 2 0 3 2* 1* =8+2 5. Scott Nicholls 3 1 1* 1 =6+1 6. Steve Worrall 2 1* 3 1 =7+1 7. Stefan Nielsen 1* X X R =1+1
1. Hans Andersen 3 3 3 2* 0 =11+1 2. Stuart Robson X 3 1* 0 =4+1 3. Joonas Kylmakorpi 0 2 0 =2 4. Danny King 3 F 2 1 =6 5. Chris Harris 2 2* 1 3 3 =10+1 6. Jason Garrity R 0 R 2 3 0 =5 7. Paul Starke (G) 3 1 0 2* =6+1