Tough end to 2015 and tough start to 2016 for Phantoms

Darius Pliskauskas scores against Guildford. Picture: Alan Storer
Darius Pliskauskas scores against Guildford. Picture: Alan Storer
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Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov insists the club could not have a tougher end to 2015 . . . or a more difficult start to 2016.

The table-topping city men see out the current year with two mouthwatering Christmas clashes against fierce rivals Milton Keynes.

They hit the road to Buckinghamshire on Boxing Day (6pm) before welcoming third-placed Lightning into Planet Ice the following night (Sunday, 5.30pm).

And while MK’s results might have nosedived of late (they’ve lost 10 times in the last two months), they did twice overcome Phantoms in overtime earlier in the campaign.

Phantoms, who have powered five points clear at the English Premier League summit, will then bring in 2016 with back-to-back clashes against second-placed Basingstoke in the first weekend in January.

They’ve already beaten the Bison three times this term and recently ended their rivals’ unbeaten home record.

Koulikov said: “They are four really huge hockey games at a great time of year for the fans.

“We have to play each of our closest challengers twice and the results in these games against MK and Basingstoke could have a big impact on the table.

“Milton Keynes clearly haven’t enjoyed the results they wanted lately, but they are a very strong team on paper. They have a good goalie, a strong defensive core and a lot of firepower.”

Koulikov admits Phantoms’ form in the opening half of the EPL season has exceeded his expectations.

They have been ever-present in the upper echelons of the standings throughout the campaign and motored into top spot in the past fortnight with a run of five victories in six games.

Koulikov added: “It has been an excellent first half of the season. We all want to win games and aim as high as possible, but I honestly did not expect to be in this position.

“Our first priority for the season was to reach the cup semi-finals and we were the first team to qualify.

“Then it was all about keeping ourselves in a good position in the league and, closer to Christmas, we have managed to rise to the top of the table.

“All the coaching staff and playing staff are very happy with how things have gone, but there is no trophy at the halfway point in the season.

“Five points is a nice cushion to have but we know there is a lot of hard work ahead.”