PHANTOMS PREVIEW: First two fixtures a great opportunity to get points on the board
Slava Koulikov insists a quick start to the English Premier League season is essential.
Phantoms begin their quest for glory this weekend with a Saturday trip to Sheffield (7.30pm) being followed by a Sunday home date against Swindon (5.30pm).
And while those contests will be stern tests in their own right, they could provide the club’s best opportunity to open their account in the first month of the season.
Their remaining September fixtures provide two clashes against reigning champions Basingstoke and two derby dates against a Milton Keynes side tipped to challenge for honours in their final season at this level.
Koulikov said: “It is a long season, but ideally we can get some points on the board in the opening weekend.
“That certainly won’t be easy as Sheffield will be determined to start well on their own ice and Swindon are a team with a lot of high-end players.
“They have the best British netminder and the best British goalscorer in the league, and both of those guys are capable of single-handedly winning games for them.
“But we know the games we have to come in the rest of September so it is important we start with a couple of good results this weekend if at all possible.”
Phantoms and Sheffield are certainly no strangers after meeting in two pre-season challenge games at the end of last month.
They were involved in a 3-3 deadlock at Planet Ice before Sheffield won the return 7-5 with Phantoms without as many as four players during that weekend.
The city men then stepped up their preparations for the new campaign by retaining ‘The Ashes’ last weekend by seeing off Milton Keynes in dramatic style.
Phantoms prevailed 7-6 on aggregate following a lengthy penalty shoot-out at the end of the second leg at Planet Ice.
They collected a 4-1 away triumph in the opening leg before seeing an MK side, without four influential players, level on aggregate with a 5-2 success 24 hours later.
That left the sides deadlocked and neither side could strike again in overtime, but new Phantoms recruit Sam Towner eventually stuck away the decisive penalty in sudden-death.
Koulikov added: “It is good for the fans and the morale of the guys to win a piece of silverware.
“Overall there were positives, negatives and inconsistencies in all four of our pre-season games.
“We had momentum in each of them and we also had tough periods where we were on the back-foot.
“We conceded three goals in quick succession in the game away at Sheffield and at home to MK, and that’s something we need to work on preventing.
“There will also be tough spells in games, but we learned to control them well last season due to our togetherness, and we need to get to that point again.”