The chorus of boos will be sweet music to Steelers’ ears tonight

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ON FORM Mark Thomas realises Nottingham Panthers would love to spoil the Sheffield Steelers’ party tonight.

Panthers are lagging behind the two title contenders, Sheffield and Belfast Giants, and last Tuesday’s Steelers’ win over Panthers removed the chance of the title going to the National Ice Centre. That’s the hostile venue Thomas and his men will perform in tonight. And, says Thomas, his side will have to show the form they exhibited in Tuesday’s midweek 4-2 victory. “For me that was our best performance as a team this year,” said the Cheshire-born blue liner. We changed a few things in our systems are working a lot smarter off the puck and, in that game, forced certain of their players to do what they didn’t want to do. The win was down to how the coach (Ryan Finnerty) had prepared us.

“But Panthers would love to take points off us tonight. I like playing there even more than I do at our place. The booing from the home fans - even when you come out for warm-up - really stirs you on!”

Thomas says Steelers deliberately allowed Panthers d-men time and space on the puck in the game earlier this week, removing the same freedom instead from their more dangerous forwards... and they hope to execute a similar operation tonight (7pm.)

Thomas says: “Maybe it has taken our team a little longer than others to work out what pattern really suits us, but we are working well now as a unit and we all think we are in with a good shout for the title.”

Sheffield, who won 5-4 at Dundee Stars on Tuesday, will be desperate for another victory as leaders Belfast Giants have what looks like a routine win ahead of them this evening, against bottom club Fife Flyers.

* Jeff Mason scored a hat-trick as the Belfast Giants beat the Hull Stingrays 6-1 last niught to build their lead at the top of the Elite League to seven points from the Steelers, who have five games in hand.