Great Britain 6 Serbia 2: Showdown with favourites Italy awaits as GB stay on Winter Olympics trail

Colin Shields, far left partly hidden, fires in his 33rd international goal for GB to give his side an early lead against Serbia on Saturday. Picture: Colin Lawson.
Colin Shields, far left partly hidden, fires in his 33rd international goal for GB to give his side an early lead against Serbia on Saturday. Picture: Colin Lawson.
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JONATHAN PHILLIPS says Great Britain’s ability to score goals is a welcome sign ahead of their Winter Olympics qualifying showdown with Italy on Sunday.

Both teams have scored a total 12 goals during their previous two Group G pre-qualifying games against Serbia and the Netherlands and now face each other in Cortina for a place in the final qualifying stage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Sheffield Steelers' GB captain Jonathan Phillips, centre, makes a nuisance of himself in front of net against Serbia. Picture: Colin Lawson.

Sheffield Steelers' GB captain Jonathan Phillips, centre, makes a nuisance of himself in front of net against Serbia. Picture: Colin Lawson.

GB reached the final stage of qualifying four years ago under Tony Hand before bowing out.

Current head coach Pete Russell saw his team see off Serbia 6-2 on Saturday, following their slightly more nail-biting 6-5 triumph over Netherlands on Thursday.

Italy, ranked 18th in the world - six places above GB – thrashed Serbia 8-0 in their opener before seeing off the Dutch 4-2.

Colin Shields became GB’s second all-time leading goalscorer when he netted his 33rd international goal by firing past Arsenije Rankovic at 4.28, although things were level within four minutes when Nenad Rakovic fired low past Stevie Lyle, who had been given the nod ahead of Rotherham-born Ben Bowns in goal.

Hull-born David Phillips celebrates one of GB's goals against Serbia. Picture: Colin Lawson.

Hull-born David Phillips celebrates one of GB's goals against Serbia. Picture: Colin Lawson.

Former Hull Stingrays captain Matty Davies, now playing with Manchester Storm, scored his first GB goal at 11.27 to give his side a deserved first-period break lead.

Early in the second period, however, GB ran into penalty trouble which allowed Uros Bjelogrlic to level the game from the side of the net at 25.44 on a five-on-three powerplay.

But Russell’s players rallied and took the lead for a third time with Jonathan Boxill grabbing his first GB goal when he deflected in a shot from David Phillips past Rankovic at 29.50.

The British enjoyed a 4-2 lead at the second break thanks to David Clarke firing home a rebound at 35.27 after Steve Lee’s shot had cannoned back off the post.

As the final five minutes approached, Clarke then grabbed his 26th international goal when he converted a pass from Craig Peacock on the powerplay at 54.54, with fellow Nottingham Panthers’ forward Robert Lachowicz’s skilful toe drag and low shot rounding off the scoring at 59.37.

“Scoring 12 goals in two games is a good sign going into a game against a higher-ranked nation,” said Sheffield Steelers’ forward Phillips afterwards.

“We have the confidence in front of goal at the moment and scoring is being shared around.

“We might not be playing our best hockey but we are getting the job done and I am very proud of the way we have dug in so far and found a way to win both matches. Neither Netherlands or Serbia gave us an easy time and we had to work hard for the victories.”

Phillips, the GB captain, was part of the GB squad which reached the final qualifying in Latvia four years ago.

“It was a great experience to go so far in Olympic qualifying last time and we want to get to that stage again,” he added.

Russell was delighted with his team’s goalscoring capability, but believes there is room for improvement in other areas.

“One of the best things about this result is that we scored six goals again,” said Russell.

“We have got a lot of guys scoring at the moment and that is really good for us.

“I am pleased with the outcome, although at times I did not feel we got pucks to the net enough.

“I am really excited about Sunday. We came here to be in this position and I am really looking forward to Italy.”