By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
Manchester Phoenix defender James Neil thinks the club perform better against the EPL’s top teams – including league leaders Guildford Flames, who they face on Saturday in cup action.
Phoenix host Flames and Milton Keynes Lightning in a rare home double header over the weekend, with Lighning following Flames up the motorway on Sunday evening.
Neil – in his third season with Phoenix – prefers the big games and the pace at which they are played.
He said: “We have done well in the games against the big teams this season. I think we play better in games against the likes of Guildford.”
He believes Guildford try to recrerate their winning home style on away grounds and come unstuck at rinks like the Ice Dome.
“We struggle at their rink because it’s so big, but they try to play the same game at ours and it’s just not possible – as results have shown.”
As for Milton Keynes, Phoenix hold the upper hand over the Buckinghamshire side having won three games in a row against them.
“I think we’ve got them worked out this season – I’m not sure what’s going on with them really, they’ve fell back a bit in the league.”
Phoenix head into this weekend on the back of a mixed weekend – they battered bottom club Telford Tigers 9-1, but lost to arch rivals Sheffield Steeldogs 2-1 in overtime on Sunday.
“The game against Telford wasn’t that enjoyable. I feel a bit sorry for them really – they’re short on players and are having to use ENL guys to cover.”
“I always think the games against teams like that, you end up playing at their level and the games are slow.”
“I’m not disappointed not to get on the scoresheet because I never am ha!”, he said. (Not strictly true fact fans – James last scored for Phoenix in January in a 5-0 away win at Basingstoke Bison)
He is adamant that Phoenix should’ve taken all four points from the weekend – convincingly.
“We should have absolutely spanked Sheffield. We had chance after chance and they managed to stay in it, and nick it on a lucky break in overtime," he said.
“They’ve done that a few times this season. I’m surprised they’re as high up the league as they are, but I’m confident we will finish above them.”
Steeldogs lie third in the league, two points behind Phoenix – and the clubs rivalry has spilled off the ice onto social networks.
“I see Andre (Payette, Steeldogs and ex Phoenix player) has been stirring it on Facebook. Our fans have bitten, and his team mates have got involved too but I’m sure it’s all fun.”
Back to this weekend, and James is looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd in successive games.
“Having two home games will help us. We’ve had a couple of really big attendances this year and it’s a lot easier for us than travelling four hours each way for a game – we can stay at home watching the footy results coming in and head to the rink!”
“Not having more local teams clearly doesn’t affect us – we won the title last year. The travelling can be a pain but that’s how it is.”
Despite being asked for a definite answer, when it came to talking about title chances, James was sitting firmly on the fence.
He said: “We’re taking each game as it comes. You never know what’s going to happen. Everyone’s beating everyone this year – the teams you want to play at the end of the season are the ones in mid table with nothing to play for, they stop fighting as much and don't seem as interested.”
Phoenix host Guildford in EPL Cup action on Saturday night with an ice time of 6pm. MK Lightning make the journey on Sunday with a face off at 5.30.
Tickets are available via www.manchesterphoenix.co.uk/tickets or at the Altrincham Ice Dome.
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