Double joy for Sheffield Steelers despite late Giants rally

Flashpoint: Bench coach Neil Abel and Steelers players point out the offending fan to Nottingham stewards.                  PICTURE: RICHARD MURRAY
Flashpoint: Bench coach Neil Abel and Steelers players point out the offending fan to Nottingham stewards. PICTURE: RICHARD MURRAY

Sheffield Steelers 5 Belfast Giants 4 (Sunday) Nottingham Panthers 2 Sheffield Steelers 3 (Saturday)

THE Panthers fan who hurled a full carton of Slush Puppie (blue) at Steelers coaches Ryan Finnerty and Neil Abel had an aim as true as some of his misfiring heroes.

Most of the beverage landed slap bang on the back of a female spectator’s head at the NIC. It was a sign. Fortune favoured the brave, (if not the woman) in the most hostile rink Steelers have to play in, in any season.

Finnerty’s men survived the late onslaught (on and off the ice) to chalk up their first win at Nottingham since the 2010-11 campaign.

Last night, there were some battered bones and bruised faces skating out to beat Belfast, despite surrendering a 4-1 lead.

The side’s work ethic and defensive unity was a credit to them in a 2-1 first period.

Rod Sarich had given them the lead with a centre blue line wrist shot but that was cancelled out by Greg Stewart’s equaliser, who prodded in a rebound off luckless John DeCaro.

A bizarre strike put Sheffield ahead, Colin Shields’ stick broke but his attempt trickled to Ashley Tait, who bagged his second of the weekend.

Head coach Finnerty wasn’t happy with the amount of pressure his Steelers team was having to withstand, so it must have been a relief to see Jeff Legue and Steve Goertzen build up a rather flattering 4-1 by 27:30.

It was reward for the hard work and stamina shown - although it was a stretch to say Sheffield justified such a margin.

The home side started to concede possession though and a thoroughly sloppy shift saw Giants score through Scott Champagne.

Sarich showed his frustration by almost smashing a plexi-glass panel with his stick.

The final period was painful to watch, as Steelers were comprehensively outplayed by the Giants.

Defensively they were overrun as early as 40;27 with Noah Clarke scoring.

There was little momentum from Sheffield other than two chances for Goertzen.

The inevitable happened at 50;25, Sam Roberts making it 4-4.

Overtime failed to separate the teams, but Shields and Legue’s penalty shot goals won the game after saves from DeCaro from Craig Peacock and Champagne.

Saturday’s record-breaking statistic spoke for itself: Games 481; Goals 191; Assists 321. Points 512.

When Ashley Tait put his stick down in the dressing room after helping Steelers win a barnstorming match at Nottingham, that was the personal tally which decorated him as Elite League top scorer of all time.

That stat tells only half the story, of course.

When you include club games outside of the Elite League era, Tait has strapped on the skates professionallsome 730 occasions.

That’s 730 times he has given his all for five clubs over TWENTY TWO years.

Fortunately, it is Sheffield that have had him on their books for the past five years, barring one season’s flirtation with Italian hockey.

And they had reason to thank their good luck again on Saturday, when Tait, Jason Hewitt and Legue scored the goals which saw them start to put right the ills of last season, when they were pretty much mastered by their biggest foes.

It looked like a whitewash was on the cards when Sheffield all but silenced nearly 7,000 fans in the NIC by taking a 3-0 lead.

Matthew Myers tipped in on the powerplay at 44.26 before the only real slip-up of the night allowed Eric Werner to score scored from long range, shorthanded at 58.06.

No fewer than 118 penalty minutes were called by referee Dean Smith and eight fighting majors, featuring Goertzen v Jason Beckett, Shawn Limpright v Martin Tuma and Shields v David Clarke.

While Steelers had been outshot by 10 chances, they’d had the focus and precision required to gain the bragging rights.

Former Steeler Steve Birnstill, now with Braehead Clan, is £2,000 richer after winning a bookies’ accumulator bet. The last result needed was Manchester United’s 2-1 win at Liverpool.