Sheffield Steelers' self-belief remains strong ahead of Nottingham Panthers double bill

THE ONE thing that seems to have eluded Sheffield Steelers all season so far has been consistency.

LET BATTLE COMMENCE: Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers clash twice in as many days in the Elite League. Picture: Dean Woolley.

It is a frustrating fact that captain Jonathan Phillips freely acknowledges as he gets set to lead his team out in the traditional festive double-header against arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers.

Today’s first meeting between the two will be in front of a sell-out crowd at Sheffield Arena, with the hosts desperate to start clawing back some points against their Erhardt Conference rivals.

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Both previous conference encounters have seen the Panthers’ emerge as the victors.

In all, the Steelers have taken just four points from a possible 20 in the 10 conference meetings they have had so far against Nottingham, Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants.

Such a poor return has become something of a millstone around the neck of Paul Thompson’s team, who head in to today’s game sixth in the overall Elite League standings and eight points adrift of leaders and defending champions Cardiff having played a game more.

Fourth-placed Panthers are two points better off than the Steelers, although it is the hosts who are the form team with two straight wins to their name – Saturday night’s 3-0 home win over Braehead Clan following on from the midweek Challenge Cup thumping of Dundee Stars.

By contrast, the Panthers make the short trip up the M1 having lost five straight games, their latest setback being the 2-1 defeat after a shoot-out at home to Manchester Storm on Saturday night.

LEADING MAN: Sheffield Steelers' captain, Jonathan Phillips. Picture: Dean Woolley.

There is little doubt that as they approach the halfway point of the regular season, the Steelers would prefer to be in a stronger position with regard to the standings but, as Phillips points out, there is still enough time for them to claw back the deficit on their title rivals.

“The poor conference form is something we’re aware of, and it bothers us. It bothers us a lot,” said Phillips. “When you look at the table and you look at the conference wins and losses there is no getting away from it. It’s something we’ve looked at and that we’re trying to put it right.

“We’ve taken just four points out of a possible 20 and that is tough to take.

“But overall, I think we’ve played well this season. We’ve just hit a bit of a bump in the road which is taking us a longer than normal to get over.

LEADING MAN: Sheffield Steelers' captain, Jonathan Phillips. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“But nothing is over and there are still plenty of games left, although we can’t deny that there is less room for error going forward.

“It’s imperative that we start putting a run together, starting with these two games.”