Wins needed to get back in the title race and repay Sheffield Steelers' fans

If there has been one positive for Sheffield Steelers during recent troubled times, it's been the loyalty of their Orange Army.
Steelers fans in BelfastSteelers fans in Belfast
Steelers fans in Belfast

Yes, there has been criticism of the team from supporters after Sheffield were beaten in five games out of six in a miserable second half of January.

And owner Tony Smith empathised with some of the thoughts expressed online.

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As a businessman he is particularly concerned about home form - Steelers have lost around a third of their matches at the Arena, hardly the hallmark of a fortress mentality.

Sheffield need to restore overall confidence with a win at Nottingham Panthers on Saturday, and crucially for the home fans, repeat the feat when they entertain Coventry Blaze on Sunday.

"It guts me when fans turn up in massive numbers and we lose at home" said Smith, reflecting the fact they have lost two out of the last three at home in front of big attendances.

"But it is great that the fans are sticking with us and turning up" he said.

"We are heading for a 7,000 crowd on Sunday night.

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"The Supporters Club has been absolutely brilliant this year and they told me that last weekend was probably the biggest number of our fans that ever travelled to Belfast.

"I am very much aware of the home defeats. I keep getting that thrown at me: 'That's our fifth one at home' then the sixth, then seventh."

Smith is hoping the return of Marco Vallerand will guide the club to a string of wins.

"He is a goalscorer, a tough kid on the ice, he's not going to roll over when somebody starts throwing the body about.

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"Last Friday I was surprised he even played at Belfast Giants after all the travelling he'd done after being released by his club. He made a difference on Saturday.

"We brought Vallerand in to stack us up a little bit more, we are hoping he makes a big difference and I think he will. He has a calming influence on the players."

Smith is under no illusion that four points this weekend would be all but essential to the EIHL title campaign.

"We can't afford to lose this weekend," he said.

"We can't afford to drop points because Belfast Giants are coming good, are full strength and with a great goalie in Tyler Beskorowany...nothing was going past him when we played him on Saturday.

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"Coventry were riding high but then struggled a bit, but that will be a tough game, they want to be in the top four.

"As for Nottingham, their season is in tatters right now and they need to get some wins in, taking two points off us would help them tremendously.

"If we drop four points it (the title chase) will be so much harder, all our fans know that.

"You can't sweet talk the supporters on this - we drop points and the title is going to be very, very hard to get."

*If Steelers successfully get through the semi final second leg against Fife Flyers on February 15, they will play the final against host team Belfast on March 1.