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Manchester Phoenix are out to claw back a four-point deficit at the summit of the EPL this weekend, with a trip to bogey team and league leaders Basingstoke Bison before Slough Jets land at the Altrincham Ice Dome on Sunday.
Phoenix slipped to a 4-3 loss against the Bison last weekend – their third in as many games against Basingstoke this season. Doug Sheppard's side showed why they have the best defensive record in the league, with netminder Stevie Lyle turning away a torrent of shots, while goals from Greg Owen (2), Jaroslav Cesky and Joe Rand snatched the points.
The game ended in controversy after a spirited Phoenix fight back when Michal Psurny's leveller was ruled out because the net was off its moorings, although much of the home support suspected Lyle had deliberately dislodged his after the shot crossed the line.
Saturday's game will see the Bison hand a debut to defenceman James Hutchinson, who was snapped up following his release from the Peterborough Phantoms. The 28-year-old was part of the Phantoms' EPL grand slam-winning team and last season he picked up an Elite League winner's medal with the Belfast Giants.
Phoenix will be hoping that the new boy has a night to forget as they look to improve on an away record of five wins and five defeats in ten games.
Slough Jets come into Sunday's game looking to kick-start their title challenge after some inconsistent performances saw them slip seven points behind the league leaders with one game in hand.
Slough player-coach – and former Phoenix favourite – Slava Koulikov saw his team rebound from back-to-back losses against Guildford Flames with a couple of hard-fought victories over Peterborough last weekend and he will be looking to get one over his former employers in Altrincham.
However, Phoenix have a good record against the Berkshire outfit, having won both previous encounters this season.
Psurny has four goals in his last four games, moving him into the top three snipers in the league with 17 overall. Norwegian flyer and linemate Joachim Flaten (pictured) is just two behind and they will be looking to add to their haul in another big weekend for Tony Hand's men.
Back-to-back wins for Phoenix plus a loss for Basingstoke at Peterborough on Sunday would square things up again heading into a run of eight EPL fixtures before the end of the year.
Tickets for Sunday's game are available via the Manchester Phoenix website.
By Andy Jowett