Over the course of the last seven days, the NIHL South title race has undoubtedly swung in favour of Phantoms rivals in Basingstoke.
That swing started with the news from Swindon that their influential import D-man and captain Jan Kostal was out of action with what may prove to be a long term injury. The impact was immediate as the Wildcats blew any title hopes they had with defeats at London and Bracknell but, of greater significance to Phantoms, they also rolled over on home ice to Bison.
Phantoms slender title favourites tag was very much based on the fact that Bison had two remaining fixtures with a Swindon side who Bison had failed to beat in regulation time in their four match ups this season. The two teams meet again the weekend after next but unless Kostal makes a miraculous recovery, it is hard to see the Wildcats troubling Bison particularly as their focus is already shifting to cup semi-finals over the next seven days.
If there is a glimmer of new hope for Phantoms then it may come in the shape of Bracknell Bees who showed impressive resistance in Bretton last Saturday and who now have talisman Frankie Bakrlik on the team to strengthen them further. Bracknell travel to Basingstoke on Saturday and then host Phantoms title rivals the following Sunday on home ice. Previous cup and league match ups this season have all been very close games so Phantoms fans will have fingers crossed in both games.
Unfortunately for Phantoms, particularly in light of their struggle in Saturday’s game at Bretton, they will be travelling to Bracknell themselves this Sunday in what is arguably their toughest fixture aside from the clash with Bison.
Another team who could have a big say in the title destination are newly revitalised London Raiders who are now back at home in their new Romford rink. Raiders are on a roll at the moment with six wins from their last eight games including wins over Bracknell and Swindon. After this weekend, Phantoms face London away before hosting the return back in Bretton but ……. Raiders also host Basingstoke in their new rink this Sunday.
As things now stand with Phantoms facing six more league games, the most realistic hope of pipping Bison to the title will come from winning all six remaining games and hoping Bison drop a point somewhere over the next two weekends. Phantoms CAN win the title simply by winning all six games but will need to beat Bison by five clear goals on 4th March to gain the head-to-head advantage and the higher league position as a result.
Remaining Fixtures in the Title Race
17th Feb – Phantoms v MK Thunder, Bison v Bracknell Bees
18th Feb – Bracknell Bees v Phantoms, London Racers v Bison
24th Feb – London Raiders v Phantoms, Bison v Swindon Wildcats
25th Feb – Bracknell Bees v Bison
3rd March – Phantoms v London Raiders
4th March – Phantoms v Bison
10th March – Phantoms v Streatham, Bison v Invicta
11th March – Cardiff Fire v Bison