Team manager Carl Johnson reckons Peterborough Panthers have one foot in the SGB Championship play-offs following a rousing East Anglian derby triumph last night (August 24).
A stunning 14-point performance from reserve revelation Tom Bacon and another prolific outing from number one Scott Nicholls, who piled up 13+1, inspired a 49-41 triumph at Ipswich.
But it was a victory which potentially came at a cost with Bradley Wilson-Dean suffering finger damage in a horror heat 14 spill in which Witches man Mark Riss and Bacon also hit the deck.
Kiwi star Wilson-Dean was excluded for causing the pile-up even though it appeared that Riss’ foot-rest went through his front wheel to trigger the carnage.
Panthers led by four points at that stage and Bacon dusted himself down to brilliantly win the re-run - the fourth heat success of his magnificent display - to ensure that remained the case.
And Panthers produced a powerful finish as Nicholls and guest Paul Starke roared to a 5-1 in the concluding race to ensure they picked up all four available league points.
It sent the city side six points clear at the SGB Championship summit and they did it without Danish rider Michael Palm Toft who was ruled out on the day of the meeting after being hurt riding for King’s Lynn in the top flight the previous night.
Team boss Johnson said: “It’s a fantastic result and one which really helps us in terms of reaching the play-offs.
“It would be wrong to say we’re 100 per cent certain of being in there, but we’ve definitely got one foot in the top four now.
“The four points gained last night have pulled us clear at the top and that’s where we really want to finish to give ourselves choice of opponents in the play-off semis.
“We got into a good lead early on and were in control for much of the meeting, but it became nip and tuck towards the end.
“We all felt it was the wrong decision to throw Bradley out of heat 14 as he was simply riding in a straight line and had his front wheel taken out.
“There was nothing he could do to avoid that crash as their rider ploughed into him and unfortunately he is now a big concern in a season where we have had to deal with a lot of injuries.
“We already had ‘Tofty’ missing - although that was precautionary more than anything and I don’t expect him to be out for long - and now we’ve got Bradley with possible broken fingers.
“Thankfully Tom stepped up when we really needed him in the re-run to complete a brilliant performance before Scott and ‘Starkie’ finished it off in style in heat 15.”
Nicholls triumphed in a shared opener before Panthers took command with a Bacon-inspired 4-2 being followed by back-to-back 5-1s.
Nicholls and Wilson-Dean did the honours in heat three before Bacon and Starke silenced the Suffolk crowd in the next race to open up a 10-point cushion for Panthers.
Ipswich were gifted a 4-2 in heat six when Starke suffered bike trouble late on the final lap and he again had mechanical issues in the next race when a Wilson-Dean victory at least earned a 3-3.
Reserve Cory Garcia’s success gained another 4-2 for Ipswich in heat eight as Panthers’ advantage was cut to six points, but Bacon and Wilson-Dean slammed in another 5-1 in heat 10 to steady the ship.
Ipswich, without their top two riders Rory Schlein and Danny King as well as chosen guest Adam Ellis due to injuries, weren’t about to roll over.
Impressive home reserve Garcia beat Nicholls in a 4-2 in the next race before Ipswich claimed a 5-1 in heat 13 after the Panthers number one touched the tapes at the start.
Nicholls could make no impression from a 15-metre handicap in the rerun when Garcia triumphed and Nico Covatti passed Starke for second place.
The big heat 14 spill only added to the drama, but Bacon’s fine ride in the re-run to breeze clear of Garcia left Panthers on the brink of a victory they secured courtesy of Nicholls and Starke in the finale.
Wilson-Dean and Starke both added nine points to the Panthers’ cause while Emil Grondal chipped in with 4+1 from reserve, but the form of captain Simon Lambert is a major concern following a second blank meeting in succession. He also failed to score in the narrow Sunday (August 19) defeat at Newcastle.
Panthers’ next scheduled meeting is a home clash against Berwick on September 9 when a win would ensure their play-off berth.
IPSWICH: Cameron Heeps 11+2, Fernando Garcia 11+2, Mark Riss 7+2, Nico Covatti 6, Kyle Newman (guest) 5, Drew Kemp 1, Rider replacement for Rory Schlein.
PANTHERS: Tom Bacon 14, Scott Nicholls 13+1, Bradley Wilson-Dean 9+2, Paul Starke (guest) 9+1, Emil Grondal 4+1, Simon Lambert 0, Rider replacement for Michael Palm Toft.