Phantoms coach Koulikov praises their main rivals

Captain James Ferrara attempts to block a Swindon shot on goal. Picture: Tom Scott
Captain James Ferrara attempts to block a Swindon shot on goal. Picture: Tom Scott
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Phantoms head coach Slava Koulikov issued high praise for the top three teams in NIHL Division One South following a weekend of crucial clashes.

The city men snatched a 3-2 success after penalties at second-placed Basingstoke last Saturday before succumbing to a 3-2 home reverse at the hands of table-topping title favourites Swindon on Sunday.

Those results meant Phantoms remained third in the standings, but they represented an improvement after defeats to the same opponents in the final weekend of January.

“We were involved in two top-end games which could have gone either way,” admitted Koulikov.

“We managed to come away from Basingstoke with the two points on Saturday. The guys really stood tall despite not everything going our way.

“But we couldn’t quite get the win against Swindon to follow it up on Sunday when we picked up too many penalties for my liking and also didn’t do enough on the powerplay.

“I give credit to Basingstoke and Swindon for the way they have performed, and I must also give credit to my guys for the way they battled hard over two games and six periods.

“We could have won both games, but we could easily have lost both of them as well. All in all it was a magnificent weekend of hockey.

“Swindon are now in pole position to win the title and our chance of doing that has been reduced, but we’re still in a decent spot.

“We will only worry about winning our games and seeing where that takes us.”

Phantoms are now five points behind leaders Swindon but do still boast two games in hand.

The city men also have the easiest run-in on paper with only one fixture against a top-four side – a home date against Bracknell – remaining.

Title rivals Swindon and Basingstoke still have to face each other on three occasions with two of those meetings taking place this weekend.

n Phantoms can book their place in a second cup final of the season next week.

The city men go to Bracknell on Wednesday for a re-arranged NIHL South Cup semi-final, second leg, 7.30pm.

The clash was controversially postponed at the beginning of this month due to snow and ice around the Bees’ base at the Hive.

Phantoms, who lifted the NIHL Autumn Cup earlier in the campaign, will travel to Berkshire as firm favourites to advance after building up a 6-3 advantage in what became the first leg at Planet Ice.

“Of course playing in midweek is never ideal,” said Koulikov. “But we have to just get on with it. We have a couple of teachers in the squad so it has fallen well for them as it is half-term week, and a few other guys are shuffling things around to make sure they can make it.

“It looks like all the guys will be there and that is important for such a big game.”