Peterborough Panthers boss Carl Johnson has called on his patched-up team to dig deep in a pair of make-or-break meetings.
The city side entertain rock-bottom Wolverhampton tonight (July 11, 7.30pm) and then host joint leaders Belle Vue on Monday (July 15, 7.30pm) in two crucial SGB Premiership home clashes.
Panthers currently occupy the final play-off place but they have fallen 10 points off the pace being set by Belle Vue, Ipswich and reigning champions Poole. They also have the other three top-flight clubs – Swindon, King’s Lynn and Wolverhampton – hot on their heels in the race for the top four.
The next two fixtures are hugely significant for Panthers, even more so as they are followed by a run of seven consecutive away meetings through to the end of August.
Their task is made tougher by the absence of skipper Hans Andersen as he recovers from the effects of a frightening spill in a home East Anglian derby defeat at the hands of Ipswich 10 days ago.
“It’s time for us all to dig deep because the next two meetings are going to have a massive impact on our season,” said Johnson.
“Injuries are a big part of this sport and unfortunately it’s something we have to accept. They cost us dear last season when we could easily have won a treble, but ended up with nothing as we lost one rider after another.
“We have to make sure that missing important guys like Hans and Bradley Wilson-Dean does not have a negative impact again this season.
“We’re in a position where we can reach the play-offs and we need everyone giving everything every time they’re on the track to make that happen.
“They’re must-win meetings against Wolverhampton and Belle Vue.
“Wolverhampton might be bottom, but they ran us very close in the Supporters’ Cup at the start of the season so we can’t take them lightly.
“And we know it will be tough against Belle Vue. They love our track and have got the better of us every time we have faced them so far, but it’s very much a case of us owing them one.”
Panthers will operate rider replacement to cover for Andersen tonight, but Johnson hopes to either book a guest or sign a short-term replacement for the stricken Dane ahead of the Belle Vue clash.
There is one injury boost for Panthers as reserve Josh Bates returns following a spell out with concussion. He will slot in at reserve alongside Aaron Summers with Ty Proctor continuing in the main body of the team.
Wilson-Dean has failed in his attempts to have surgery on the collar-bone he broke in a crash at Belle Vue a month ago, but the New Zealand champion cannot return to the Panthers line-up until July 28 (once Proctor’s 28-day spell has been completed) anyway.
Johnson added: “Bradley’s collar-bone has been healing naturally for the past few weeks and there is no massive rush as he can’t come back in until Ty’s 28-day spell is up.
“Hans was signed out for 28 days on the night of his crash which takes us up to the end of July so we’re having a good look at what our options are.
“The last thing we want to do is rush him back before he is 100 percent right.”