Crunch time for Basingstoke Bison's title challenge

Basingstoke Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard battles with a Manchester Phoenix player in a game earlier this season.

Basingstoke Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard battles with a Manchester Phoenix player in a game earlier this season.

First published in Sport by , Sports Reporter

IT IS make or break time for Basingstoke Bison in their quest to lift the English Premier League title this weekend.

The Herd will travel to league leaders Manchester Phoenix knowing only a victory in regulation time on Sunday evening will keep alive their hopes of winning the EPL crown.

The Phoenix have a four-point advantage over the Bison with four games remaining for the title rivals.

Both sides are in action on Saturday night – the Bison entertain Sheffield, while Manchester travel to Swindon.

Looking ahead to the crunch game against the Phoenix, Basingstoke Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard said: “We know what we have to do in Manchester, otherwise we are eliminated. We will go there and give it our best shot.”

The Herd trail their rivals by four points with four games to play, and the top two clash for the final time in Altrincham on Sunday night (face-off 5.30pm).

However, before this, the Bison face a tough home outing with a visit from penalty kings Sheffield Steeldogs on Saturday evening (face-off 6.30pm).

So far this season, every game between these sides has been decided by a single goal, with three of them going all the way to a penalty shoot-out.

The Steeldogs won the opening encounter this season, on home ice but the Bison have won the last four games between the sides, including both previous meetings in Basingstoke.

Sheffield play a very physical brand of ice hockey and are the only team in the EPL to have racked up over 1,000 minutes in penalties, which is 500 more than the Bison.

So a hard-hitting affair is expected but Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard is ready for this.

He said: “We know it is going to be a battle and games have been tight with them all season. I expect this to be no different.

“This game could be a play-off quarter-final match-up, so both teams will be keen to set the tone for this.”

Sunday will then see the big showdown, with the Bison probably having to beat the Phoenix in 60 minutes to keep their hopes of winning the title alive.

So far this season, every game in this league series has been won by the home side, but the Herd have won in Altrincham before, in fact on all of their three visits last season.

Looking ahead to big clash, Sheppard said: “In their rink they are a very dangerous team and get some great goaltending.

“We know they are going to come out strong from the start and will have to stop them scoring on us first.”

He added: “We have not won there this season, but trends are there to be broken and this is what we are going to have to do.”

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