Steelers rely on whipping boys in title charge

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STEELERS must look to a team that has conceded 211 goals in 46 games to arrest the progress of champions elect Belfast Giants this weekend.

Sheffield’s 3-2 overtime loss at Braehead Clan on Thursday means Ryan Finnerty’s men now have two games in hand over the Irish leaders, but trail by seven points.

In theory, it looks a done deal.

If Giants win both of their weekend games (in regulation time) at third-from -bottom Edinburgh Capitals, they will be one regulation win away from the title, possibly clinching it against Steelers at the Odyssey Arena on March 16.

In the past few weeks, Steelers’ official title position has shifted from “having the outcome in our own hands ... it’s our to lose” to “the pressure is on Belfast not us, as underdogs” to “it’s hockey, stranger things have happened”.

That turnaround comes on the back of losing half of their last eight games.

While they have beaten bottom-four teams Hull, Edinburgh and Fife (twice) in that sequence, they have perished to Braehead and Belfast (both twice). The form book frequently gets tossed out of the window, but Sheffield know there is going to have to be a quite seismic turn in events if they are to keep hold of the title won by Ben Simon’s class of 2010-11.

And that seemed to manifest itself at Braehead, where the 20 Yorkshire fans who made the trek apparently felt slighted by a lack of recognition by their own team.

Player-coach Ryan Finnerty later tweeted: “Sorry guys, I think after losing that way we were pretty down. Appreciate the road support and long may it continue.”

Tonight, Sheffield host Braehead before playing another home game tomorrow against Cardiff Devils.

While the focus is on those two games - and then after that the trip to Northern Ireland - it is entirely likely that coach Finnerty is also spending time considering what changes he will make to the squad for next season, where the battle to improve on second place will begin.