Nottingham Panthers v Sheffield Steelers: Paul Thompson happier being the team others need to catch

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.
Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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PAUL THOMPSON acknowledges that his Sheffield Steelers players can probably see the finishing line in the race to be Elite League champions – but he is refusing to let them get ahead of themselves.

The Steelers went top of the regular season standings for the first time during the 2015-16 campaign following last weekend’s 5-2 win over Fife Flyers at Sheffield Arena.

But with just a handful of games remaining, the South Yorkshire club are just one of five teams in with a chance of lifting the trophy.

This weekend couldn’t present any tougher task for Thompson’s team, first heading down the M1 to take on Nottingham Panthers tonight before returning north to play host to Coventry Blaze 24 hours later.

Both opponents have presented problems for the Steelers throughout the course of the season, none more so Coventry, who put one foot in the post-season with a thumping 6-1 win over Nottingham on Wednesday night.

That result put a serious dent in the Panthers’ own league title hopes, leaving them six points adrift of the Steelers with a game in hand. And while they may be outsiders, Thompson knows Corey Neilson’s team would love nothing more than to prevent his team lifting the title for a fifth time.

“If Nottingham can’t win it, then of course the next best thing for them would be to stop us doing it and they’ve got two chances to do that,” said Thompson. “But there is still everything to play for for five teams. Nobody, anywhere is throwing the towel in just yet.

“We’ve got four games to go and – at this stage – I’d rather be the team leading the pack.

“Going top is a confidence-boost for the players too and they can see the finishing line but – and I know it is the oldest cliche in the book – but we can’t think of looking past this next game.”

The arrival of Coventry hands Thompson’s players one last chance to get the better of a team who have struggled down the bottom of the standings all season, but come into Sheffield on the back of a five-game winning streak and looking to clinch a seventh win of the season over their hosts.

“Blaze’s league position doesn’t really show how good they are as a club,” said Thompson. “But, our focus has to be about us and what we need to do – nothing else or whatever has gone before.”