Panthers looking to turn up the heat for Sunday's derby clash
Team boss Carl Johnson has called for a big performance on a big occasion as Panthers roar back into action this Sunday.
The table-topping city team entertain East Anglian rivals Ipswich in an SGB Championship clash at the East of England Arena (5pm).
It’s Panthers’ first outing for three weeks and Johnson has stressed the importance of hitting the ground running in their penultimate home fixture of the league campaign.
“It’s always a massive meeting against Ipswich,” said Johnson. “There’s a big rivalry and always a buzz when we face each other.
“Sunday is hugely important for both clubs. We’re looking to keep our terrific run of results going and move a step closer to sealing our place in the play-offs while Ipswich are knocking on the door of the top four themselves now.
“We’ve only got Sunday and then Berwick next month to come at home, and we need to make the most of those meetings.
“The fact Ipswich are without Danny King, who usually piles up the points at our place, could help us, but they’ve booked a good guest in Adam Ellis who has scored well here this season.
“But we will concentrate on how we approach the meeting and how we perform. We’re expecting a big crowd and our job is to ensure our supporters leave happy.
“Going three weeks without a meeting is far from ideal, but most of the guys have been riding elsewhere so hopefully we won’t be caught cold.”
Huntingdon-based King, a Panthers rider earlier in his career, has been out for much of the campaign after suffering serious nerve damage to his arm in a crash with then team-mate Michael Hartel in May.
Ellis certainly won’t be short of motivation when he steps in given he is a member of the Lakeside team battling with Panthers for supremacy in the second tier.
Panthers are missing a rider of their own on Sunday with Ulrich Ostergaard predictably failing to recover from five broken ribs - sustained in a crash against Scunthorpe in mid-July - in time to face the Witches.
The city club have turned to Ben Barker - who also guested for them in the second leg of their KO Cup final triumph against Ipswich at the end of last season - to deputise with Ostergaard now aiming to be fit for a trip to Lakeside next Friday (August 10).
Panthers’ lead at the top of the SGB Championship was slashed from seven points to just three when Lakeside triumphed at reigning champions Sheffield last Thursday.
It could disappear completely ahead of Sunday with Lakeside facing Ipswich twice in the space of 24 hours. Those sides meet in Suffolk tonight (Thursday) and at the Arena Essex Raceway tomorrow.
“We’ve been top for a long time and we want to stay there,” added Johnson. “It’s possible that Lakeside could pass us in the next couple of days, but we’ll then be the team with a meeting in hand and the chance to hit straight back on Sunday.
“We’re obviously aware of results elsewhere, but our focus has always been on what we do and finding as much improvement as possible.”
PANTHERS: 1 Scott Nicholls, 2 Simon Lambert, 3 Bradley Wilson-Dean, 4 Michael Palm Toft, 5 Ben Barker (guest), 6 Emil Grondal, 7 Tom Bacon.
IPSWICH: 1 Rory Schlein, 2 Cameron Heeps, 3 Nico Covatti, 4 Mark Riss, 5 Adam Ellis (guest), 6 Coty Garcia, 7 David Wallinger.