PETERBOROUGH Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov believes his players can choose the perfect moment to shake a Milton Keynes monkey from their backs.
The city team take on their fiercest rivals in a mouth-watering English Premier League Cup semi-final, second leg clash at Planet Ice tonight (January 20, 7.45pm).
It is effectively a 60-minute shoot-out for a place in the showpiece after the sides shared six goals in an exhilarating opening chapter in Buckinghamshire seven days ago.
But Phantoms must now achieve something they have so far failed to do in six previous attempts during the current campaign to keep their silverware hopes alive . . . condemn the Lightning to defeat.
Koulikov said: “We wanted to bring the tie back to our barn to be decided, and we did that.
“It was a two-game semi-final, but now it all comes down to one game and the team which wins tonight will reach the final.
“It is an important night in the seasons of both clubs and we will both be desperate to win.
“We are one game away from a final, and three from potentially winning it so it is our shortest way to a trophy.
“Everyone knows we haven’t beaten Milton Keynes yet this season and that will have to change.
“I have said many times that the head-to-head record this season between us and MK doesn’t bother me and that is still the case.
“How many times have we seen in the world of sport, in things like the Winter Olympics, World Championships, league play-offs etc, that a team ends up losing after being unbeaten in a while?
“Anything can happen in a one-off game and that is what tonight will be.
“I can’t tell you what the result will be, but I can pretty much guarantee it will be a really good game to watch.
“Every single one of them against MK so far this season has been entertaining and I don’t expect this one to be any different.
“I don’t expect there to be much in it either. Even though MK have beaten us five times in the league, four of those games were either settled in overtime or late in the final period.
“But what happens in this competition certainly won’t define our season. We still have slightly more than a third of the league programme to go and the play-offs after that.
“It is not something we want to happen, but it won’t be the end of the world if we go out.”
Koulikov believes a boisterous Bretton crowd can help Phantoms’ cause by creating a white-hot atmosphere. Club chiefs are hoping a near capacity crowd – thought to be close to 1,000 – will pack into Planet Ice tonight.
Their backing could prove invaluable to a Phantoms side who are enduring their toughest spell of the current season.
They have lost six of their last eight league games although a heart-stopping 7-6 success against crisis club Manchester last Sunday did at least prove they can find the net after a barren spell.
Koulikov added: “It would be nice to see a lot of fans cheering us on and it will give us an extra advantage if that happens.
“That is why we have chosen to stage the second leg as we know the atmosphere in our rink can be brilliant when the crowd is behind us.”
Basingstoke entertain Guildford in the opening leg of the other semi-final tonight. That tie is completed next Wednesday (January 27). The final is expected to take place during February.