JONATHAN PHILLIPS admits there is no more room for error for Sheffield Steelers as they continue their "dogfight" to secure a place in the Elite League playoffs.
The ailing Steelers dropped to 10th in the standings after a weekend which produced just a single point from games against two of their playoff rivals, a 5-4 overtime loss at Manchester Storm following a 6-0 capitulation the previous night at home against Glasgow Clan.
With the Steelers having 18 games of the regular season remaining, there are just seven points between them and fourth-placed Glasgow heading into the first of two games in four days with Guildford Flames tonight.
Guildford, who host the Steelers at The Spectrum before heading to Sheffield Arena on Saturday, currently lie sixth, four points ahead of Tom Barrasso's team in an increasingly congested mid-table.
As it stands, leaders and champions-elect Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants are virtually guaranteed a spot for the post-season and, while third-placed Nottingham Panthers may be looking over their shoulders a little nervously at the teams beneath them, they should already have enough to see them through.
It means the remaining five spots are up for grabs with seven teams in the picture, including the Steelers who, said captain Phillips, cannot afford any repeat of the “horrendous” performance they produced against Glasgow.
“There’s no getting around the fact that it was unacceptable on Saturday,” said Phillips. “This late in the season, when we are already in a dogfight for the playoffs and we’re at home against Glasgow.
“It was just a horrendous performance - that is the only way to describe it. There’s no hiding from it.
“We played better at Manchester but it was another one of those games where we shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of mistakes at the wrong times in the game. We had a two-goal lead twice, so that hurt just to come away with the one point.”
Prior to this week’s final meetings of the regular season between the Steelers and Guildford, it is Paul Dixon’s team who have largely had the upper-hand, winning three of the four encounters, while also prevailing 9-8 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.
With a trip to Cardiff to follow on Sunday and injured forward Rob Dowd not expected back for at least two weeks, there is even greater emphasis on the Steelers enjoying a positive 120 minutes against Guildford.
“This is the business end of the season, it doesn’t matter where you are in the standings,” added Phillips.
“The tough thing with losing to our closest rivals in the standings these past couple of weeks - like Dundee, Glasgow and Manchester - means there is even more emphasis on games against the likes of Cardiff where we need to claw that points deficit back.
“Every game, every point is vital from here on in. We need to scrap for everything. We just can’t afford to be giving the teams around us two points anymore.
“Right now, we are with them but, if we perform like we did last weekend, then these teams will be breaking clear from us and we can’t afford for that to happen.
“We want to be the ones breaking clear and getting points in the bag and make sure we secure our place in the playoffs as soon as possible.”