LUKAS Smital inspired Bracknell Bees to a 5-1 win over Manchester Phoenix – but offered plenty of sympathy to the visitors whose future is in big doubt, writes Dave Wright.

“They are in a similar situation to what we had ourselves last year,” said Bees’ player-coach.

His club survived, thanks in no small measure to massive support from fans, but crisis-club Phoenix may not be so fortunate.

Smital, who is a long-time friend of Manchester coach Tony Hand, said: “I know what he is going through. It is not only tough for him, but everyone at the moment.

“They (Phoenix) said they would get through their January fixtures which they have, so all credit to them.

“Will they get through February? You will have to ask them that question.”

Manchester, having had to release all their imports, turned up at The Hive on Saturday evening with nine ‘guest’ players from National League clubs Bristol, Oxford and Solent.

“They tried hard, but you could see the difference in quality,” said Smital.

“It was probably not the most exciting game, but it was a game we were grateful to have.”

For this bottom-of-the-table clash, Smital took the opportunity to give more ice time to his squad’s youngsters, including his netminder son Matt and also Jack Hayes.

“They are young lads and sit on the bench for a long time and obviously get nervous, but they have done a good job for us tonight.”

The sympathy shown by Bees did not just stop with the kind words from Smital after the game.

A bucket-collection around the rink saw fans donate more than £220, while one of Bracknell’s sponsors, Blue’s Smokehouse, sent food down to The Hive for the Manchester players.

As for the game itself, Bees were always in command after taking a 3-0 lead in the opening period through Rio Grinell-Parke, man-of-the-match Alex Barker and skipper Matt Foord, on his return from injury.

Lukas Smital added a fourth in the middle-period.

Manchester pulled one back before Josh Smith completed the scoring with less than eight minutes remaining.

Smital was also on target in Sunday’s 6-2 defeat at league leaders Telford Tigers along with Danny Ingoldsby.

Fears that Telford would be excluded from the play-offs as punishment for their controlling company going into liquidation have now been allayed, but the EPIHL plan to introduce sanctions for next season.

So if Bees are to make this year’s play-off they will need to string together a few wins together as they trail eighth-placed Sheffield Steeldogs by nine points with a game in hand.

Bees return to the ice on Sunday when Hull Pirates visit The Hive (6pm).