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Belfast Giants' title bid still alive, insists coach Thornton

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Up close: Giants’ Robby Sandrock (left) tussles with Guilleme Doucet last night in Nottingham

Up close: Giants’ Robby Sandrock (left) tussles with Guilleme Doucet last night in Nottingham

Up close: Giants’ Robby Sandrock (left) tussles with Guilleme Doucet last night in Nottingham

Belfast Giants coach Steve Thornton was clinging to positives after seeing his team suffer a heartbreaking last-minute defeat to the Nottingham Panthers.

The Giants' hopes of clinging on in the Elite League title race have been dealt a major blow, however, with the 1-0 loss coming just 24 hours after a penalty shoot-out defeat to the same opposition.

Last night's clash looked to be heading for overtime too, but with 49 seconds to go Nottingham's Chris Lawrence broke Carsen Chubak's stubborn resistance when he collected a pass from former Giant Chris Higgins and fired the puck into the net.

Chubak was pulled almost immediately, but the Giants couldn't find an equaliser that would have meant an extra five minutes of sudden-death play.

After two extremely tight and tense periods the decisive goal came nine minutes after an incident that started with a clash between Nottingham's Colby Cohen and Giants' Cody Brookwell resulting in the Belfast man and Panthers' Robert Farmer being ejected from the game.

Brookwell was deemed guilty of spearing while Farmer was thrown out for leaving the bench to get involved in the melee.

"We played a great road game against a team that is hot right now, killed eight penalties and created opportunities, but we have made their goalie look good by not being able to finish them," said a frustrated Thornton.

"Over the weekend our performances were good. We played well over six periods so to take one point is a hard pill to swallow.

"We played as well as we did in Sheffield when we took two points out of there and on the road we have been playing very well.

"The lines are incredibly fine. Saturday's game went to a shoot-out and we could have won that. When a game is 0-0 anything can happen, so we were very close to making it a full point weekend."

With league leaders Braehead Clan winning against the Dundee Stars, the Giants are now five points off the top. More worrying for Thornton, however, will be the fact that since winning eight times in nine games through December and early January they have won just three times in 11 outings.

Last season's top goalscorer Kevin Saurette remains on the injured list, with no sign of an imminent return and Great Britain international goaltender Stephen Murphy is in the same situation.

"It's been tough all season and there are no easy games in this league," said Thornton.

"We were excellent throughout the weekend and it is disappointing not to come away with more.

"There are positives to take from the weekend, but we really need to get Saurette and Murphy back in the line-up because they are guys who win matches.

"We played well and created chances, but we didn't have the finish.

"When you are in a game like that, that stays at 0-0 for so long you are looking for someone to step up and score the goal and we didn't have that."

Belfast Telegraph