Highlights: Sheffield Steelers 5 Nottingham Panthers 4 - Masterful Matheson times his winning blow to perfection

Mark Matheson (hidden) is mobbed baby his Sheffield Steelers team-mates after scoring the late game-winning goal against Nottingham Panthers. Picture: Dean Woolley.
Mark Matheson (hidden) is mobbed baby his Sheffield Steelers team-mates after scoring the late game-winning goal against Nottingham Panthers. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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ON a night which delivered him a personal four-point haul, Sheffield Steelers' Mark Matheson saved his best contribution until the very last.

With three assists to his name on a night of fluctuating fortunes for the hosts against arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers, the veteran defenceman proved why he is regarded so highly by team-mates, coaches and fans alike.

With overtime beckoning, the Steelers drove forward on the powerplay one last time. Matt Marquardt raced down the right wing and delivered the puck towards the front of the net where Matheson - who had started the move from behind his own net - timed his charge for the return pass to perfection to backhandhis shot past Patrick Galbraith in the Panthers' net.

Five seconds later, the game was up, the Steelers celebrated another late, late show while the Panthers continued their protests over the holding call on Tim Billingsley which had left them a man down 97 seconds of regulation remaining.

Up until man-of-the match Matheson's late killer blow it had been anyone's game, the Steelers just about enjoying the better of the chances overall, and probably surprised to find themselves 3-1 adrift early in the second period.

But they rallied impressively, battling back to take a 4-3 lead before the second break courtesy of three goals in six minutes, Panthers later levelling to set up what turned out to be that memorable finale.

The initial deadlock was broken early on in front of 7,000-plus crowd at Sheffield Arena, when Panthers' Ollie Betteridge found a way past Ervins Mustukovs on his near post at 1.52.

But the Steelers were level through a moment of magic from top prospect Liam Kirk - scouted by several NHL giants in recent weeks - the 18-year-old bouncing down the left wing on a breakaway before firing past Michael Garnett into the top corner of the net.

But the Panthers regained the initiative in the 17th minute through Jeff Brown, pouncing on a loose puck in front of the net, with Zack Phillips extending the lead further with a piledriver at 25.42.

It was that strike which seemed to galvanise the home side, who knew they can ill-afford too many more slip-ups if they are to keep what are already faint Elite League title hopes alive.

HOW'S THAT FOR STARTERS: Liam Kirk is congratulated by his team-mates after his third-minute equaliser against Nottingham Panthers. Picture: Dean Woolley

HOW'S THAT FOR STARTERS: Liam Kirk is congratulated by his team-mates after his third-minute equaliser against Nottingham Panthers. Picture: Dean Woolley

Marquardt made it a one-goal game within three minutes of Phillips's strike after breaking free down the right wing to beat Garnett, with Jonas Westerling left alone on a 5-on-3 powerplay to tap home from close-range after a clever, quick feed from Mathieu Roy from in front for the equaliser at 31.02.

Just under four minutes later, Andreas Valdix broke clear after cutting out a Panthers move near the blue line, the Swede firing high past Garnett to send the home crowd delirious and the Panthers' goaltender to the bench in exchange for back-up Galbraith.

There was always the feeling that one goal would not be enough, however, and so it proved when Alexander Mokshantsev levelled on the powerplay 53.37. But the Steelers kicked back and had several near-misses before Matheson showed his penchant for a perfectly-timed dart forward with just seconds remaining.

The weekend's job is only half done for the Steelers though, returning on Sunday to complete a home double-bill against an in-form Manchester Storm, who arrive in South Yorkshire (face-off 5pm) after strengthening their grip on third place in Saturday night's 9-1 thrashing of Coventry Blaze.

GREAT LEVELLER: Jonas Westerling, far right, fires home Sheffield Steelers third goal against Nottingham Panthers. Picture: Dean Woolley.

GREAT LEVELLER: Jonas Westerling, far right, fires home Sheffield Steelers third goal against Nottingham Panthers. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The Steelers' win over the Panthers moved them above Fife Flyers and into fourth spot, two points behind Manchester and with two games in hand.

Cardiff and Belfast shared six points over two nights at the SSE Arena, Andrew Lord's side winning 3-2 in overtime to cancel out their loss in a shoot-out to their hosts the previous night. It means the Devils remain seven points clear of the Giants at the top, with the Steelers 14 points behind the defending champions with two games in hand and four games still to come against the leaders and clear title favourites.