Peterborough Phantoms 4 Leeds Chiefs 2 - New faces required to help Chiefs’ cause

SAM ZAJAC praised another battling performance from Leeds Chiefs – but admitted a lack of depth was hurting his team as their wait for a first win goes on.

Monday, 7th October 2019, 1:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 2:36 am
THROUGH THE GAP: Leeds Chiefs goalie Sam Gospel is beaten by Glenn Billing's opener for Peterborough Phantoms on Sunday evening. Picture: David Lowndes.

A gritty 4-2 defeat at Peterborough Phantoms extended the Chiefs’ losing start to the season to five games, leaving them three points adrift at the bottom of the NIHL National standings.

The Chiefs have been up against a number of obstacles in their inaugural season, not least the fact they are waiting for their rink to be completed on Elland Road.

This has seen them forced to carry out their midweek on-ice practice sessions in Blackburn, with some players having to make 130-mile round trips to take part.

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LEVELLER: Richard Bentham levels for Leeds Chiefs against Peterborough Phantoms. Picture: David Lowndes.

Their plans were hit further last week when forward Chris Sykes left to rejoin Billingham Stars in the tier below, with player-coach Zajac running out of time to bring in replacement ahead of yesterday’s trip to Cambridgeshire.

Already short on numbers compared to last night’s hosts, it was just another obstacle for Zajac and his players to deal with.

To his credit, however, 30-year-old rookie coach Zajac is not willing to use any of the issues as an excuse, although he admitted bringing in at least one more body was now a major priority.

“It was another gritty, battling performance from the guys that unfortunately again came up just short, to be honest,” said Zajac,

ON THE BACKFOOT: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach Sam Zajac blocks the path of Peterborough Phantoms' Martins Susters on Sunday evening. Picture: David Lowndes.

“We were playing against a very well-organised team tonight and that rink is always a notoriously tough place to go.

“It was great to see guys putting their bodies on the line and giving their all for the cause.

“Right now, though, it’s depth that is killing us, and it’s up to me to find the right guys to bring in that are going to supplement the group that we have here, and give the guys the best chance to win.

“In the meantime, we will stick to the process and continue building to get to where we want to be.”

Peterborough have enjoyed steady success under lead coach Slava Koulikov in recent years, winning the EPL play-offs in 2015, while last season saw them lift the South Cup and Playoff titles before losing out to Hull Pirates in the National play-off final.

Therefore, it was always likely to be a tough night out for the visitors and the first of three power play goals on the night against them came through Glenn Billing at 9.35 putting them on the backfoot.

But they were soon on level terms when Richard Bentham answered with his first of the season just 94 seconds later, when scrambling the puck home from in front of the net.

A timely second goal on the man advantage for the hosts just 13 seconds before the end of the period from Connor Pollard hurt the Chiefs, who then went two goals behind – again on the power play – when Latvian forward Martins Susters struck at 29.06.

Leeds were reeling further when they conceded a fourth goal at 35.56, Petr Stepanek the man responsible and, although forward Adam Barnes struck his first goal of the campaign at 54.03 – a power play effort – that was close as the visitors could get, leaving them to contemplate next Sunday’s visit to Raiders.