SWINDON Wildcats head coach Ryan Aldridge was left to rue his side’s slow start at the Altrincham Ice Dome as they were beaten 4-3 by Manchester Phoenix in the English Premier League last night.

Cats found themselves 3-0 down at the end of the first period against the division’s second-placed side and, despite 40 superb minutes of hockey after that, they couldn’t quite haul themselves back into the game.

Aldridge lamented his team’s slovenly opening to the match, saying he felt Phoenix showed more drive and desire in the early exchanges, but he went on to praise his players’ battling qualities.

“I don’t think we were matching their intensity, the work rate, their competitiveness. I think they wanted it harder than we did in that first period, especially their top guys – they do the little things, they’re unselfish and they do it for the team. I didn’t think we started like that tonight,” he said.

“I thought we played phenomenally for the last 40 minutes and we deserved more than to lose the game. I thought we deserved at least a point tonight.

“We’ve never really done very well here but in the last 40 minutes we played very well and showed we can compete with the top teams in the league.”

Wildcats had the better of the ice in the opening five minutes but failed to capitalise on an early powerplay and were made to pay on 9.16 when František Bakrlík struck the frame of the goal and Robin Kováø bundled home.

Three minutes later Swindon found themselves two down, as James Archer beat Stevie Lyle, with an assist from Tony Hand and, before the first period was up, Phoenix led by three. Hand found the net after Bakrlík wasted a glorious chance.

Swindon were much improved in the second period and found a way back into the game at 28.24 when Aaron Nell picked out Jonas Hoog and the Swedish import finished clinically beyond Steve Fone.

They continued their improvement into the final period, despite falling further behind to Bakrlík’s effort on 52.24.

Cats persisted with their high intensity game and were duly rewarded when Stevie Whitfield found Nell to drag the visitors back into the contest.

When Nell struck again, converting Hoog’s assist with 56 seconds left, a dramatic finale was on but even pulling netminder Stevie Lyle could not free up the firepower Cats needed to bag a late equaliser.

It meant Swindon returned two points from their weekend double header, having beaten Peterborough Phantoms on penalties at the Link Centre on Saturday evening.

Aldridge said: “We’ve proved how good we can be when we play so hopefully we can come good in the final stretch.”

There was an injury worry for Cats overnight, as Sandvik was taken to hospital for assessment on a mouth wound sustained during the first period. The import was seen by the Manchester doctor in the first break yesterday and did not feature for the remainder of the contest.

Aldridge said: “Henri’s got something in his mouth. He wanted to play, we had him see a doctor to review it. He’s got some loose skin in his mouth and he (the doctor) was scared that if he got hit on it again it would rip off and he’d need surgery. It’s nothing major, I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”