Match report: Sheffield Steelers 1 Nottingham Panthers 4

Sheffield Steelers coach Ryan Finnerty looks concerned as he watches on from the sidelines against Nottingham Panthers
Sheffield Steelers coach Ryan Finnerty looks concerned as he watches on from the sidelines against Nottingham Panthers
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IT IS never over until the fat lady sings, as they say.

But the overweight warbler was certainly clearing her throat, last night, as Steelers flopped in the Challenge Cup Final first leg against champions Nottingham.

Jobs are on the line at Steelers.

The owner, Tony Smith, couldn’t have made that much plainer.

Last night, he wanted to see the players show their support for coach Ryan Finnerty.

But the truth is that it’s now more likely that Panthers win the Grand Slam, rather than Steelers win by four goals in the second leg on April 2.

The first period had been low on clear goal opportunities, scraps and hits until Panthers were awarded their second power play of the night.

David Ling swept the puck across the home crease to Bruce Graham, hovering alone on the right side of John DeCaro’s goal. He connected perfectly, directing his shot over DeCaro’s left shoulder at 17;23.

The earlier penalty had been given after Drew Fata had left a leg out, inviting a fall from a Panther, resulting in a tripping minor. Fata protested, but these calls are routinely handed out these days.

Eighty seconds later, Graham fed Ling who handed Jordon Fox a chance and he shot home.

Before that, Sheffield had enjoyed marginally the better of what chances were on show.

Jeff Legue, Simon Ferguson and Steve Goertzen all had half-chances and Tylor Michel grabbed every opportunity to go on long skates.

Sheffield upped their physicality, Chris Frank peeling off two seconds into the middle session to fight Gui Lepine.

Ferguson was an inspirational figure, charging the net, shooting on sight and fighting Jason Beckett.

Yet disaster struck again. Fata twice blazed over the bar on a 4-on-3 Power Play and when the teams became even Robert Lachowicz made it 3-0 to Panthers.

Notts netminder Craig Kowalski looked like he had a shut-out in mind; making an instinctive blocker save from Legue.

The prospect of a Sheffield fightback was hindered further when Matt Stephenson was harshly ejected for spearing.

And Panthers needed just 54 seconds of the final session to drive another nail in Steelers’ season.

James Jorgensen couldn’t clear the puck and Lachowicz notched his second of the night.

Steelers fans should be credited for the way they stuck by their team and they were rewarded by a neat Legue goal, a wrist shot from the right wing, at 43;45. But it was little more than window dressing in a match that may well have repercussions for many of the playing squad.