Watkins to play waiting game ahead of EPL title defence

Photo by Lauren Rankin

Tom Watkins insists his Tigers players are still on track for the start of the English Premier League season, despite a 4-3 defeat to Manchester Phoenix in the Red Hockey Cup.

Saturday night’s encounter at Telford Ice Rink saw the reigning EPL champions go 3-0 down in the first period, before launching a spirited fightback later in the game.

That return to form almost saw The Tigers snatch a draw against their Red Hockey stablemates, as they staged a grandstand finish to proceedings.

And Watkins, who takes his side to Deeside for the return leg on Sunday evening, was happy with the overall performance.

He said: “I was disappointed with the goals we gave up, but I thought we were very positive throughout the game. We played with a lot of energy and turned a lot of pucks over.

“I think throughout the game, that was the way we played, which created a lot of offensive chances. Unfortunately, Stephen Fone, in the Manchester goal was fantastic for 58 minutes.”

Strikes from Robin Kovar, Mark Thomas and James Archer gave the visitors a three-goal cushion at the end of the first period, before Nathan Salem hit back three minutes after the break.

Manchester, however, scored a fourth goal just three minutes later, thanks again to Archer, as they looked to have built an unassailable lead.

But goals from Nathan Salem and Martin Ondrej – both in the final 60 seconds – ensured a nailbiting end to the game, with the hosts pulling netminder Thomas Murdy in the closing moments.

Watkins added: “I thought it was tough going to come up against a netminder like Stephen Fone, but we’ll have to cope with that a lot during the league season.

“We need to find a way to break those situations down. It was a shame we ended the first period 3-0 down, and it took us 58 minutes to put two goals away quickly.

“I wasn’t disappointed with the way executed a lot of our plays. It was basic mistakes that cost us, obviously in the first period. It is better to identify them now.

“From an energy point of view we were excellent, but those mistakes hurt us. It is just another step in the right direction and we’ll look for an improved performance in Deeside.”

Sunday night’s return game, against Manchester Phoenix, faces off at 6.30pm.

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