AFTER watching his side surrender leads on a number of occasions recently, it was impossible to wipe the smile off the face of Wildcats coach Ryan Aldridge last night.
Swindon led 4-1 at Guildford and ultimately held out for a 5-4 victory despite a dramatic fightback by the hosts.
Aaron Nell crashed in a well-taken hat-trick, but it was a performance that was as much about the miserly rearguard as it was about taking chances in front of the net.
And Aldridge said: “To come out of it with a win after the way it was going was probably the biggest bonus.
“The last shift with 35 seconds to go was probably the time I was starting to think it might change.
“But we found a way to win even though we were up against a very skilled hockey team.
“We made a few mistakes on a couple of the goals, but we still fought onto the end and won, so we’ve got to take the plusses out of that.
“I think we were the better team tonight and Skinnsy (netminder Dean Skinns) was absolutely phenomenal. They really threw everything at him.
“It was a great team performance all-round and I’m really happy with that.
“Jonas (Hoog) made a few phenomenal passes and Aaron got himself a hat-trick, and Matias (Perkkio) scored a great goal, and offensively we took our chances.
“The system we played was very defensive, so we knew we had to take our chances when we got them, and to be fair to the boys they did that.
“It was a new system we only practised last night just to use in this building, and the boys stuck to it well.”
A frantic first period opened up in explosive fashion when a bout of fisticuffs between Sam Bullas and the hosts’ Andrew Sharp led to 2+2s for both players.
Eleven seconds after Branislav Kvetan had a blockbuster strike from behind the attacking blueline disallowed, the Flames rearguard crumbled and Nell made the most of the situation to tuck in the opener.
A pacy counter-attack saw Wildcats extend their lead at 16.06, Hoog supplying the superb diagonal pass from which Nell gleefully tapped in.
Sharp left the ice for a second time after being given a 2+10 for roughing when he went in search of Bullas once more, and less than three minutes into the second period, Lee Richardson converted a one-on-one with Mark Lee (22.46).
Perkkio pinged off the pipes moments later, stunning Guildford into action and they laid siege to the visiting goal, eventually getting their reward when Jez Lundin crashed home during a five-on-three powerplay.
Skinns clawed off the line with the help of a defenceman’s stick and Hoog then had the opportunity for his first, when he was brought down when through on goal.
The Swede saw his penalty shot effort blocked by Lee but 54 seconds before the end of the second period, Perkkio pounced, assisted by Jamie Hayes.
Guildford started the almost-inevitable comeback in the last 10 minutes, Andy Hemmings getting the ball rolling when he stabbed home following a huge scramble (50.55) Nell completed his hat-trick with an opportunist strike at 56.32, but the Flames replied 17 seconds later as Rick Plant made it 5-3.
With less than 90 seconds on the clock, Wildcats old boy Jozef Kohut fired past Skinns from close range, but despite pulling the goalie, Flames could not level in a nerve-jangling finale.