January 26, 2012

EPL Gears Up for the Stretch

As the Steeldogs boarded the bus for the Thursday night trip over the Pennines to Manchester they welcomed a new face. Raivis Kurnigins joins the Steeldogs for the remainder of the season from Latvian league side JLSS Zemgele where he had scored 17 times this season.

Kurnigins joins the team with fellow Latvian sniper Janis Ozolins a fan favourite at Ice Sheffield already. The Steeldogs also announced the signing for academy player and Great Britain Under 18 player Shaun Wild who will also be in the side in time for the clash with the Phoenix.

The Steeldogs signings mark the start of the end for the EPL season and this season it is closer than ever. Going into Thursday game between the Manchester Phoenix and the Sheffield Steelers the top 5 were separated by 6 points with about 20 of the 54 game season remaining.

The Guildford Flames still top the league and remain slight favourites for the title following Sundays win against the unbeaten in 9 Manchester Phoenix. The Phoenix’s run over the new period, which included wins over fellow title chasers Milton Keynes, Guildford, Sheffield and Slough had lifted them back into contention. However in a tight chasing pack the Manchester Phoenix currently lie 4th one spot ahead of tonight’s opponents Sheffield but level on points with the Slough Jets.

Slough’s rink problems over last weekend had led to the postponement of their scheduled home game which meant that the third place Jets slip 4 points behind the Flames but with a game in hand over their Surrey rivals. Milton Keynes on the other hand lies 2nd in the table level on games played with the Flames but 3 points behind and with a new signing of their own in the team.

This situation makes it all to play for and the Steeldogs moves in the transfer market make it clear they mean business heading down the stretch. Whether it will make the difference for the Yorkshire club is a difficult question. A set of legs on the bench will freshen the team up but if they don’t gel together quickly (and Kurnigins doesn’t speak English) things could go wrong.

Momentum will be key for the eventual 2012 champions. Manchester’s 10 game winning streak proves that any team out side of the top two this year can make some ground to challenge the top. However they will need to keep it going whilst those at the top now will know they cannot afford to drop points.

Crucially Slough’s rink problem last weekend could proof to be the difference.
With a game in hand they can move up the standings quickly but it is an extra game to fit in.  All eyes in the EPL playoff race will be on the last three weeks when Manchester face Guildford, Sheffield and Slough. Whilst the last weekends fixtures sees Guildford hosting the Steeldogs and a home and home series between the Milton Keynes Lightning and the Slough Jets.

The game in Manchester was a typical feisty war of roses match up. There were penalties a plenty but the break through game in the third period when Duggan, Cingel and Koulikov netted to give the Phoenix a 3 – 0 win.

That moves the Manchester outfit up to 2nd in the table now 2 points behind the Guildford Flames who have 2 games in hand.

Neil Tucker

No comments:

Post a Comment