Two late goals saw Sutton Sting clinch a thrilling 7-5 win over visiting Manchester Minotaurs in the NIHL Moralee Conference on Saturday.
After losing the first period 3-0 and going 4-0 down on the restart, Sting coach Matt Darlow was a relieved man, saying: “It’s great to get the first win under our belts as it gives us something to build on, but I’d hoped it would be an easier afternoon than we gave ourselves.
“I think we took them too lightly as a group and Manchester showed that if you do that at this high level you’ll be in trouble pretty quickly.
“We needed a mental adjustment after the first period and credit to the lads they dug in, got their hands dirty and grafted hard for the 40 minutes we had left to win the game.
“Taking this forward we now know what is needed from our unit for the full 60 minutes in every game and also know that we have the talent, tenacity and team spirit to come back when we need to the most.”
It was a shaky start for Sutton as Murray beat Sting netminder Andy Bagshaw from the blue line just 36 seconds into the game to the shock of the home crowd.
Sutton then took a penalty for too many men on the ice and Manchester quickly racked up another goal, scored on the powerplay by Cade King.
As the first period was drawing an end, John Murray bagged their third goal and the Sting were reeling.
Sutton’s Nat Rose then went for an early shower, getting a 5+game for hooking with Sutton coach Darlow and his bench bemused after expecting a holding the stick penalty on Manchester.
The first period ended with some strong defence and goaltending from Manchester with shots on goal close, but the score in favour of Manchester by a solid margin.
The second period began with Manchester on a powerplay and just 13 seconds in, captain Brian Worrall put them 4-0 up in what looked likely to be the end of the Sting.
However, just 30 seconds later the inspirational Mark Turner scored a short-handed goal with assists from Scott Glover and James Spurr, and when captain James Goodman netted from Ryan Johnson and defensive partner Simon Offord, this left Sutton just two goals behind with half the game left to play.
Just two minutes before the end of the second period break, Manchester goaltender Aron Fox opened up after an initial save to let Spurr make it 4-3 and the Minotaurs were now the ones on the back foot.
Going into the third period and the game grew even better for Sutton as Shaun Ashton equalised just six minutes in with assists from Richie Oliver and Offord.
But their joy was short-lived as Manchester’s Joe Greaves put Manchester back in the lead 5-4 just three minutes later.
Then Sting equalised again when Offord scored on the powerplay via a tip-in and Manchester heads visibly dropped as Sting man of the match Oliver scored what proved to be the game-winning goal for Sutton in a remarkable comeback.
It was a tense last four minutes, but there was to be no repeat of the Blackburn game of two weeks earlier as Sting import Ivo Celar scored the empty net assurance goal with just 17 seconds to go, assisted by Johnson, to close out the game.
This was an outstanding show of character from a Sting team that left themselves with so much to do but came back fighting and got the job done.
Sting manager Joe Watson said: “We realise this is a team with work still in progress, but as a group we believe that we have what it takes to grow and be successful this season and we hope we can do the people of Sutton proud.”