SWINDON Wildcats player-coach Aaron Nell has urged his side to make home advantage count in their quest to finish top of the NIHL South One table this season.

The Cats go into this weekend’s new year break at the head of the standings, having claimed 41 points from 28 league contests.

Four teams look likely to be in the running for the title once the campaign resumes as Swindon, Peterborough Phantoms, Bracknell Bees and Basingstoke Bison are all separated by just three points.

It is second-placed Peterborough who are the strongest placed at present, sitting just a single point off the top with four games in hand on Swindon.

Exactly half of the Cats’ final 14 league fixtures are against their three title rivals, but five of those will take place on home ice at the Link Centre.

Nell says it is imperative his side make the most of that if they are to stay in contention for the crown.

“It is very, very tight, and although we have got the points on the board at the moment, Peterborough are still the favourites,” said Nell.

“Ourselves, Basingstoke and Bracknell are all neck-and-neck behind.

“It is going to be a tight race until the end of the season and it’s the job of the other teams in the top four to try to bring Peterborough back towards the pack.

“The head-to-head games against the top teams are massive and we’re fortunate that in the second half of the season, they are mainly coming back to our place.

“We have got some big home games coming up and it is going to be an exciting end to the year.”

The Cats have had a relentless schedule so far this season, playing at least a double-header on every weekend since pre-season began at the start of September.

As well as their remaining league fixtures and the play-offs after that, Swindon also face an NIHL Cup semi-final against Basingstoke in early February.

Nell says the mid-season break has come at a welcome time for his troops ahead of a frantic few months in the race to claim some silverware.

“We have played two games almost every weekend, and we have had two three-game weekends too,” said Nell.

“It has been non-stop but the players like it that way. If you are going to be successful as a club, you are going to be playing more games.

“It has been a long first part of the season so it is good to have a break.

“The guys can have this week off, then next week, we will have an extra practice on Tuesday to get them back into it.

“When we come back, we have 14 league games, which are all massive games, and then either cup semi-finals or finals and play-offs.

“They are all big games after the break and it is the fun time of the season.”