MAKE no mistake about it - the race for the English Premier League title is only just hotting up.
MK Lightning extended their unbeaten run to seven league games at the weekend to further narrow the gap between them, in fifth spot, and table topping Manchester Phoenix to 13 points - the city side having five games in hand.
Since the beginning of January Lightning have chopped seven points off Phoenix’s lead over them, with the sides still to meet each other twice more before the end of the campaign.
Incredibly, Lightning also have four games to play against the two teams immediately above them - Slough Jets and Basingstoke Bison - while they will meet second placed Guildford Flames three times. Few would bet against Lightning taking the bulk of those points on current form.
On Saturday they despatched Manchester from Planet Ice with a 6-3 defeat and then went on to record another shut-out win in beating Sheffield Steeldogs 5-0 in Yorkshire.
Lightning raced into a 4-0 lead up against Phoenix before the opposition had even got a sniff of goal.
The hosts started the match without the injured Monir Kalgoum and Matt Towalski, and they were joined on the hurt list by Grant McPherson who took a bad knock early in the game.
After an even first period it took until 45 seconds from the first break before the first goal - Blaz Emersic setting up Andre Smulter to give Lightning the lead.
The roles were then reversed as Emersic netted from Smulter’s pass after 27m 54s, while the Slovenian needed no help from his line mate less than three minutes later when he stunned Phoenix with his team’s third unanswered goal on 30m 34s.
Even when Nick Poole was penalised for tripping a short while later there was no way through the meanest defence in the league for Phoenix.
In fact it was Lightning who were on target again with the Smulter and Emersic show once more responsible for the fourth goal - the Finn the time hitting the back of the net after 33m 56s.
Manchester finally got on the scoresheet with 1m 18s remaining on the period as Tony Hand supplied Curtis Huppe to beat goalie Barry Hollyhead.
Lightning saw off an early third period penalty before Adam Carr made it 5-1 from Gary Clarke’s pass at 45m 23s.
Two Marcus Kristofferson goals handed Manchester faint hope of a late comeback, but that was soon extinguished in style by defenceman Lukas Zatopek whose rocket shot 1m 6s from the end looked as though it was going to break the back of the net to make it 6-3.
The following day Lightning had to play the patient waiting game after Jacob Heron gave them an early lead on 7m 58s against Sheffield - not that Steeldogs posed much threat as the visitors outshot them 15-4 in the first session and 14-8 in the second.
By the second interval Steeldogs were as good as beaten as Carr added a second goal on the powerplay on 37m 36s after former Lightning man Adam Radmall upended Leigh Jamieson.
A further penalty on the home side again proved costly for them when Emersic was the provider for Clarke to score on 46m 19s.
Zatopek then got his second goal of the weekend after 55m 50s when with Lightning on the powerplay once again he was set up by Clarke.
But the final shout went to captain Carr who completed another great weekend for his team with their fifth goal - assisted by Michael Wales and Heron - and recorded at 58m 20s.
This weekend Lightning will be hoping to repeat their success in their last two games against Guildford when Flames visit Planet Ice on Saturday. The city side then head to Bracknell Bees on Sunday where they will be aiming for a more comfortable win than their overtime victory earlier in January.