Bison v Phantoms …… the showdown approaches !

“It is how you show up at the showdown that counts”

Homer Norton

Saturday sees the eagerly awaited showdown between the top two sides in NIHL South One as the pre-season ranked #1 hosts #2 but with #2 sitting four points clear in the table with just nine games to play.

Bison still have two games in hand over Phantoms but the old timers adage is always “better to have the points on the board” so make no mistake about it, all the pressure is on Bison !

Here’s how the two teams shape up  ……


Phantoms advantage. Bison’s last five games show form of DLWDW whereas Phantoms last five road games show WWDWW so Phantoms have the edge. Coach Koulikov …… “We go into the game with four wins in a row and that run of results has been good for morale. We’re top of the league table, we’re the highest scorers and we’re well on track to reach my target of conceding less than three goals per game”.

Head to Head

Bison Advantage. No arguing with the head-to-head stats ….. it screams out Bison win. The all time Phantoms record in Basingstoke is W6 D4 L16. It’s slightly better in the Koulikov v Sheppard era at W4 D1 L8 but you can’t make these stats look good for Phantoms !

This Season

Bison (Slight) Advantage.

In the two NIHL fixtures, Phantoms won by one in Basingstoke and Basingstoke won by one at Bretton. The two rivals shared a win apiece in both the Autumn Cup match ups and in the pre-season games but the only thumping wins favoured Bison, 5-0 in the challenge game and 6-2 in the Cup and both at home so they won’t be feeling particularly intimidated !

Team Strength

Phantoms (Slight) Advantage.

Phantoms expect to be at full strength on Saturday with the anticipated return of D-man Rob Ferrara and with Phantoms 2 not in action until Sunday, Slava will have options to change his roster if needed.  Bison were missing the influential Aaron Connolly and Dan Scott last weekend and participation for both is expected to rest on game day decisions.

Pre-Game Psychology

Slava Koulikov is calling it bang on. “We won’t lose the league title if we lose there, but a win in Basingstoke could be a huge step towards winning it”. Basically Bison must win this one as their run-in is not only more difficult with the two games against Swindon but they have at least a semi-final in the Autumn Cup to focus on and possibly a two leg final too.

Phantoms also know they have a final match-up with Bison at Bretton to fall back on and undo the damage if needed thus leaving the Bison v Swindon games as the more likely title deciders.

Doug Sheppard is avoiding any loose talk about Phantoms but isn’t lacking confidence either, “they are a good team with plenty of depth but we are playing well at the moment. They are the league leaders and we’re going to have to play a good game and look to keep pace with them if we want a chance at winning the league. We’ve played two close games so far between two evenly matched teams. We’re on home ice with our fans making the atmosphere, we know we need to be at our best and we’ll look to come out strong.”

Prediction ?

There is very little to choose between these two and the smart money would go on another close game with maybe only one goal between them. The first period may set the tone and if Phantoms get the jump then Slava Koulikov knows how to defend a lead in a tight game and Bison know that after the recent 2-1 road win for Phantoms.

If we can put Bison on the back foot early and find a two goal lead in the first then I’ll back Slava and the boys to defend it for a narrow Phantoms win !