Everybody wants to beat the play-off champions

Craig Scott celebrates his goal against Basingstoke. Picture: Alan Storer

Craig Scott celebrates his goal against Basingstoke. Picture: Alan Storer

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Slava Koulikov reckons play-off success will make his Phantoms team a prized scalp this season.

Koulikov expects their English Premier League rivals to be even more determined when going into battle against his trophy-holders.

It certainly didn’t appear to affect Phantoms as they launched their defence of the crown in terrific style courtesy of back-to-back victories during the opening weekend of the new season.

A 6-3 road-win in Swindon was followed by a rousing 5-3 home triumph over Basingstoke as they laid down a marker to the rest of the second tier.

Koulikov said: “I know for a fact that no team will make the mistake of under-estimating us after the success we had last season. In fact they will all want to beat the play-off champions even more and that means we are under pressure every time we take to the ice.

“It is something we must deal with and we did it well last weekend. We spoke as a group about the importance of getting off to a good start and we made it happen.

“We produced good performances home and away to pick up four points against two very strong teams.

“It was such a tough weekend that we could easily have ended up with nothing so to already have two wins on the board is very pleasing.

“You only have to look at the fact Swindon won in Telford the following night to see what a good result we had down there.

“We followed it up with another good performance of our own against Basingstoke. Combinations are already clicking and we are showing great character, but we must correct the way we basically gave them their goals.

“That is one of a few things we still need to work on.”

Koulikov, who has no plans to return to the ice anytime soon, is bracing himself for two more stern tests this weekend.

Phantoms travel to perennial challengers Guildford on Saturday (6pm) before entertaining fierce rivals Milton Keynes on Sunday (5.30pm).

Koulikov added: “There are hard games every weekend in this league. It is tougher than it has ever been and we have to ensure we focus and prepare for each of them.

“Guildford are always a big team and I fully expect MK to one of the teams challenging as well. We’ve already had two close games against them in the Ashes when we showed a great mentality to get the trophy for our fans, and I’m sure this one will be no different.”

Guildford recovered from an overtime setback at the hands of Basingstoke in their curtain-raiser last Saturday to win 5-1 against newboys Hull the following night.

Milton Keynes also opened their account last weekend when a 6-3 victory over Bracknell was followed by a 4-2 loss on the road to Manchester.