Stars 6 Sharks 3
Billingham Stars came out on top in a nine goal thriller against current League and Cup Champions the Solway Sharks. Terry Wards side turned the tables on their Scots opponents and became the only team to beat the Sharks, twice in the last 13 months.
The Stars were desperate to put right a narrow 3-2 loss at the hands of the Sharks in Dumfries in this seasonâ€™s opening game. The first set a frantic pace with end to end action that looked likely to close all even, however an opener came from Stars Paul Windridge who pounced on a Garry Dowd rebound of the boards to move Billingham one goal ahead by the first break.
The second opened with some controversy when Solway Sharks thought they had scored referee Tony Boynton washed out the visitorâ€™s claims to a goal when James Flavell sat on the puck before it crossed the line.
The game started to turn niggling after Stephen Wallace scored the Stars second unassisted only to be boarded by Sharks Craig Mitchell after he scored, Stars Michael Bowman took exception to Mitchells unsporting display and fist flew with Bowman collecting a two minute roughing call and Mitchell a 2 + 2 +10 misconduct.
On the halfway mark the Stars looked set to dominate following some pin point fast passing between Davies and Elder set James Moss up to fire home Billinghamâ€™s third unanswered goal of the night.
Sharks bit back just over a minute later as Struan Tonner opened for the visitors, a quick response from the home side saw Richie Thornton put the Stars fourth past a screened Mark McGill.
A minute after play resumed the Sharks again reduced the Stars lead as skipper Mark Gallagher took advantage of a poor Billingham clearance. The second closed Billingham 4 Solway 2.
A couple of 2 minute minors saw the Sharks start the third on the back foot and the Stars turned up the power play heat when Richie Thornton hit his second of the night.
Just over a minute later Wallace added his second of the night and the Solway keeper vented his frustrations picking up a two minute roughing call. With seven minutes to go the game erupted after a boarding on Stars Cal Davies, James Moss retaliated, Moss dropping his gloves proved the catalyst for Sharks goalie Mark McGill to cap of a bad night in goal with an early shower for being third man in. Billingham blue liner Garry Dowd then joined the party and after being unable to get a firm grip of the Solway keeper went toe to toe with Sharks Alan Crane. With some hefty penaltyâ€™s distributed and the Sharks goal tender taking an early shower the Solway side nominated Struan Tonner to take over in goal as the Sharks had travelled without a backup goalie. As play resumed consolation goal for the Sharks took some of the sting out of the result and Tonner in comparison to his predecessor played out the final seven minutes without loss in the Solway goal. The game closed Billingham 6 Solway 3.
Terry Ward felt his side had done everything he asked of them;
â€œWe thoroughly deserved to win 6-3, should’ve been a few more maybe. I think the team played excellently – we shut them down where we needed to shut them down, we forced them into making long plays all night, which is exactly what we wanted to do. I told the boys to look after each other – the crosscheck on Cal Davies, Moss went straight in to protect him – it’s good that we have that team spirit and we won’t be bullied by anybodyâ€.
â€œYou’re only as good as your last game – we played well in Blackburn and carried the momentum forward – I didn’t think we deserved to lose in Blackburn. Tonight we were excellent and played hard for three periods, winning all 3. We look to carry that momentum forward again to Telford next weekâ€.
â€œOn any given night any team can win, you have to go out and work for it, no one’s going to give you the victory. We have to beat these teams and we are beating them, that’s what countsâ€.
Sharks coach Martin Grubb conceded that the team who wanted it more on the night got the result;
â€œTo be honest I think the hard working team, the team that wanted it more won the game. Billingham came out and played with the same style and system that we knew they would but they worked harder than us. They got the opening goal when I thought that first period was heading for 0-0, it bounced off the back boards and credit to them it ended up in the back of the net. We found ourselves down but we got it back to 4-2 – it was scrappy but we made too many individual mistakes and that’s the bit that hurts. We’ve not tasted defeat a lot but the big message that we have to take in our dressing room is that you have to learn from your mistakesâ€.
â€œEverybody that plays us now, we’ve got a target on our back because we’re the league and cup championâ€™s people want to beat us. Billingham were close in all 3 competitions last year so of course they’re going come hard at us. The disappointing thing for us is that we never matched the work rate and the passion – we have no excuses, we came here with a bench capable of getting a result. We had key guys lose their composure – every time we managed to hang onto Billingham’s coat tails someone else made a mistake. We know what happened after the 5-0 defeat last year – we went 33 games unbeaten so we have to get back to work next week, raise our tempo and be a wee bit smarter and hopefully things will change for usâ€.