Crucial title racefixtures coming up for Phantoms
Phantoms are gearing up for a potentially season-defining spell.
The table-toppers face four successive NIHL Division One South games against fellow title contenders.
Phantoms lead the four-horse race for glory ahead of a Saturday trip to second-placed Swindon (6.15pm) which is followed by a home Sunday showdown against reigning champions Basingstoke (5.30pm).
Those fixtures are then flipped during the weekend of February 9 and 10 when Phantoms will hit the road for Basingstoke before welcoming Swindon into their Bretton barn. The title picture is likely to be much clearer once those games have been completed.
And those crucial pairs of league clashes sandwich an NIHL South Cup semi-final showdown with Bracknell – the other team who are still realistic league title hopefuls - on February 2 and 3.
Coach Slava Koulikov said: “We go out to win every game in every competition. Whether or not that is possible I don’t know, but it is definitely the goal.
“Realistically we would be happy to take 75 per-cent of the points in both weekends against Swindon and Basingstoke.
“Swindon have always been the favourites in my opinion, Bracknell have the coach and many of the guys who won the league last season and Basingstoke keep showing week after week that they are still in the hunt too.
“There are many twists and turns ahead but we are the team sitting top and we will do all we can to make sure no-one catches us.
“We told everyone we would try to compete for every trophy this season. We have won one and we are very much in contention for more.”
Phantoms will certainly have to perform much better than they did when being thumped 8-2 in Bracknell last Saturday, but they salvaged the weekend with a 5-2 home success against mid-table side Streatham the following night.
And a scintillating recovery from 2-0 down in that Planet Ice clash will provide momentum for the acid tests which lie ahead.
Koulikov added: “We needed two points on Sunday and the guys really showed up in the third period to make sure we got them.
“It’s always about how you respond after a heavy defeat and for two periods we didn’t do that well enough.
“But the guys really picked it up in the third when they showed why there are one of the best teams in the league. It was almost a perfect period.
“We know we’re almost unstoppable when we play like a team and execute the things we’ve worked on for a long time. We have to make sure we do that for 60 minutes every night rather than in the odd period here and there.
“It was vital we beat Streatham because we couldn’t afford to be going into such an important spell of league and cup games on the back of two defeats.”