Sheffield Steelers 4 Guildford Flames 6

Anthony DeLuca on the boards. Pic Dean WoolleyAnthony DeLuca on the boards. Pic Dean Woolley
Anthony DeLuca on the boards. Pic Dean Woolley
Sheffield Steelers blew the chance to go top of the league with a below-par display at the Arena, losing 6-4 on Saturday to Guildford Flames.

Most of the damage was done in the middle period when Guildford seemed better equipped in all respects.

Over 60 minutes, in a game Sheffield trailed 4-1 and 5-2, the better team won.

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It was Steelers' first loss of the season, but they can partially put it right on Sunday night in the reverse fixture.

The first meeting of the two sides since March 2020 started off with pace and penetration from both sides, an even match-up with plenty to keep the fans happy.

Local winger Alex Graham, returning from his short stint in Canada, was warmly welcomed back at the Arena.

But it was Guildford who struck first.

Home goalie Barry Brust had a couple of long-range efforts to deal with but conceded at 7:47.

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Adrian Saxrud-Danielsen's attempted pass was intercepted, Flames swarmed into Steelers' zone and Brett Ferguson converted.

But with Anthony DeLuca attracting a delayed penalty, Steelers withdrew Brust and threw numbers upfront, John Armstrong wrist-shooting home under considerable pressure outside the crease (13.19.)

Armstrong had made a match-winning contribution in his last appearance, he had been Sheffield's most promising option in Saturday's opening frame, and it was his effort that sent both teams in level at the first break.

Nothing had happened to suggest such a torrid middle session awaited. Sheffield duly conceded three goals in six minutes to put them in a tight spot.

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Initially, Aaron Fox's men had taken the game to Guildford, but Travis Oleksuk's tip was blocked by goalie Kevin Lindskoug and Evan Mosey fired a chance wide. But that same shift ended with the visitors taking the lead for a second time, through Bolton.

John fired wide of Brust's despairing blocker and the Sheffield goaltender will have been unhappy with the fourth that went past him, despatched by Ian McNulty.

Sheffield's uncompromising duo of Deluca and Brendan Connolly took the 1-4 scoreline as a personal insult and went hard and direct for the centre of Flames' defence.

That combination worked when DeLuca pulled a goal back at 39:19.

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The Surrey side defended with steely application, killing to penalties and increasing their lead to 5-2 when Levi Cable ghosted into the slot.

Some inspiration was required and Marco Vallerand provided. Brust rebounded a shot and Vallerand countered, banging home a rifle shot, top shelf, which reduced the arrears to two goals.

But Sheffield's defences were breached again - even when they had a man-advantage, Tristan Frei shooting past Brust to ensure the points were going down south, despite Graham's goal with five seconds remaining.