By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
Manchester Phoenix netminder Stephen Fone has said the Altrincham team can win the EPL title for a second successive year – but it will be tougher than last year’s maiden success.
Phoenix currently lie second behind Guildford Flames in the league table – the team they beat to the title on the last day of last season.
This weekend sees Fone and his team-mates take on Telford Tigers on Saturday before travelling to the Sheffield Steeldogs a day later.
Stephen said: “ The thought of winning the title has definitely crossed our minds. The unbeaten run brought us right back into the title mix.”
“We are relying a bit on other teams beating Guildford, but all we can do is concentrate on our games and getting four point weekends.”
“There’s still a lot of hockey to be played though – I think four or five teams could still win the title whereas last year ourselves and Guildford ran away with it a little bit.”
Phoenix recently racked up nine consecutive wins before Guildford ended the streak in mid January – although last weekend saw Tony Hand’s team get the perfect four point weekend with victory over Milton Keynes Lightning and Swindon Wildcats.
“We were happy with our performances last weekend. Milton Keynes is never an easy place to go but we put in a really strong defensive display and to limit them to just a few shots was great.”
“Against Swindon – one of the teams near the bottom but they are always a threat – we put in a really solid team performance.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, Stephen is adamant that Phoenix will not be complacent against Telford, with the visitors rock bottom of the EPL at the moment.
“They shouldn’t be underestimated because they’re bottom of the league – everyone is taking points off each other this season – they beat Guildford recently. We’ve played well against them so far this season but they can’t be taken lightly,” he said.
Phoenix have 17 past the Tigers defence in the last two games, but to prove Fone’s point, the Tigers beat them earlier in the season. So what about the War of the Roses clash with Steeldogs?
Stephen said: “We have a good rivalry with Sheffield. It makes the games more interesting when you’re playing against a local team – it won’t be an easy game, it never is – but they’ve improved vastly on previous seasons this year.”
Has Fone noticed then a difference in the way teams approach Phoenix as they are the reigning champions?
He said: “All the teams want to beat us this year because we’re champions – the league is much closer and it’s harder to get points this year.”
“Because of that, you could say it would be more of an achievement to win the title this year than last year. It’s one thing to win a title – another entirely to hang on to it!”
Fone has been the subject of much praise this season from his coach, team mates and fans for numerous man of the match performances and shut outs.
The modest Yorkshireman said: “I think I’ve played OK this year – I’m quite pleased with my form. Every player will have an off game when you play as many games as we do.”
“Getting man of the match is nice, but if I don’t pay brilliantly and the team still wins, well that’s more important.”
Fone also has a message for the club’s faithful fans ahead of this weekend’s games.
He said: “Keep cheering for us and supporting us – you can spur us on and give us an extra man – the fans have been immense home and away this season. I want to thank them for their support and let them know we appreciate it.”
“We will do our best to bring a trophy back for you.”
Follow Steven Oldham on Twitter - @spoldham