DON’T write Milton Keynes Lightning’s title chances off yet - there is still a long way to go.
That was the message from team manager Vito Rausa as the club headed into the Christmas break in fifth place in the English Premier League.
It was at this stage last year that Lightning went top of the table - and stayed there until the end of the season to clinch the championship.
But Rausa highlights the fact that Lightning have five games in hand on league leaders Manchester Phoenix who are 16 points ahead of them.
Add in to the equation that Manchester, second placed Guildford Flames and third and fourth placed Basingstoke Bison and Slough Jets all have numerous meetings against each other and the manager says there is still all to play for.
“Ask the guys in the dressing room if they think it’s all over and they will say definitely no,” said Rausa.
There’s no doubt that injuries have dogged Lightning’s progress this season and some have been playing through them in recent weeks.
Gary Clarke (groin), Michael Wales (back), Monir Kalgoum (knee) and Nick Poole (shoulder) have all been playing with the injuries while Lewis Christie and goalie Barry Hollyhead were both ruled out for several weeks with leg injuries.
“We had to stop Grant McPherson playing with the hip injury he’s had for some time to give it time to heal - he wanted to play,” said Rausa.
“Ironically the postponement of the games against Manchester Phoenix and Bracknell Bees was a blessing in disguise. It means the guys will have had a 10 day break over the Christmas period in which to recover. It’s a testament to all those guys that they’ve wanted to carry on playing throughout injury.”
The home encounter with Manchester was called off hours before face-off as the Phoenix coach was forced to turn round a few miles south of Stoke on the M6. The following day’s match also fell victim as it was considered too dangerous for the Lightning team and fans to travel. Both matches still have to be re-scheduled.
Rausa also believes that Lightning’s dismissal from the English Premier League Cup in the league stage will also prove to be a benefit.
“We ran out of legs towards the end of the league last year - mainly because of midweek cup games. We won’t have that this time,” he said.
“If we can get a fully fit Lightning then the rest of the league had better look out. The league championship is far from over. There is still a long way to go.”
In the wake of the glut of injuries Rausa said there have been some unsung heroes who have stepped up and shouldered extra responsibility - among them Adam Brittle and Matt Towalski who have impressed immensely.
He said youngsters Jacob Heron and Ross Green have played with a maturity way beyond their years while he applauded Jamie Line’s ‘terrier like’ tenacity.
Goalie Alex Mettam had excelled in taking over in crucial games when Hollyhead was injured.
Lightning are back in action on Thursday December 30 when they face Swindon Wildcats at 7.30pm. On Sunday they go to Manchester Phoenix, face off 5.30pm.