It was a long 500-mile round trip for Sutton Sting seniors after they suffered a 5-2 defeat in Scotland against Solway Sharks on Saturday.
The visitors were keen to continue with their better form that would put them in contention to make the NIHL1 Moralee Conference play-offs.
It was always going to be a tough assignment for the team, given the strength of the opposition and the fact they knew they were going to have little rest in between their travelling before another game at home to Billingham the following evening.
That said, coach Ian Johnson took a strong squad to face the newly-crowned league champions, knowing his side would be up for the fight, which meant the eventual three-goal setback was still a disappointment.
The game started evenly, with net minders Zimozdra and Russell both being tested early on, but it was the home team, through in-form Iain Bowie, who struck first to go ahead on 4.14.
The same player was also on hand to double the lead, narrowly beating Zimozdra with a close range effort just after the 12th minute mark.
But the home team didn’t have it all their own way, as Sutton’s Shaun Ashton and James Spurr both came close, testing NM Russell.
Sting’s persistence and hard work paid off at 18.12 when forward Adam Robinson finished off a close range effort to give the travelling team a lifeline.
As the match moved into the second period, it was again end to end action, but Solway simply looked the more composed of the two sides, particularly in front of goal.
Although the hosts were not dominating Sutton, a third goal for them seemed inevitable, and with 25.35 on the clock they secured one through long-serving forward Bob Chalmers.
With the game seemingly swinging towards the side of the current league champions, Matt Jeffcock stepped up for Sutton and lit the lamp to peg back the lead to 3-2. His goal was timed at 36.27, meaning the deficit was back down to just one at the end of the period.
But Sting’s hopes of a revival were soon dashed as Sharks’ Stevie Moore made it 4-2 with less than a minute on the clock.
And with a frustrated Richie taking a slashing penalty towards the end of the game, up stepped one of the league’s top goalscorers in Tonner to hit a bullet from the hash marks to add a fifth Solway goal.
Overall, it was spirited performance from both teams in a game with very few penalties.
The shots on goal count saw 28 against Russell and 25 on Zimozdra in the Sting net.
Coach Johnson said after the game: “We came with a strong squad and competed for three periods, I can’t ask for more than that really.
“The lads worked really hard throughout and never gave in. Solway aren’t consecutive league champions for nothing, they were clinical and professional throughout and took three more chances than we did.
“Most weeks we seem to be out-shooting teams, but are conceding more than we score, and against opposition like the Sharks there will only be one winner.
“That said, I am really happy with my teams effort and application.”
Johnson went on to congratulate the Sharks, who he believes have been well deserving of the honour.
“Martin Grub and his team have done it again - they are a quality outfit - and with Les Maxwell and his support staff behind them, long may it continue,” he added.
“To win the league is one thing but to do it consecutively since being promoted and to have so many games in hand of their opponents is pretty special.
“Congratulations to Martin and his team. I hope we will manage to secure a play-off spot, and maybe win a place in the cup final too, where we will hopefully lock horns again.”