Last home meeting is a crucial one for Panthers

Ulrich Ostergaard returns to action on Sunday.
Ulrich Ostergaard returns to action on Sunday.
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Team chief Carl Johnson has billed Panthers’ final SGB Championship home fixture as a must-win . . . for both teams.

The table-topping city side entertain fellow play-off hopefuls Berwick at the East of England Arena this Sunday (5pm).

Scott Nicholls.

Scott Nicholls.

Panthers currently boast a six-point lead at the second-tier summit whereas the Bandits were squeezed out of the top four by results last weekend.

It is one of a number of crucial clashes that lie ahead during a thrilling final few days to the regular season with seven clubs still holding realistic hopes of reaching the honours shoot-out.

“It’s a huge meeting - one that both clubs will class as a must-win,” stressed Johnson, whose side are also intent on claiming revenge for a 55-35 drubbing in the reverse fixture last month.

“We want the three points to keep ourselves top wherwas Berwick will need a result here if they want to get into the play-offs.

“It’s a night where we have to be at our best and we’ll need the fans behind us. Every lap of every race and every point will be important.

“We owe Berwick one after the defeat up there. It’s the only track where we haven’t managed to pick up at least a point in the league.

“It would be brilliant to give them a taste of their own medicine in front of our fans.”

Panthers will go into the clash without number one Scott Nicholls, who was injured in a heat 13 crash when guesting for SGB Championship rivals Ipswich in their defeat at Glasgow on Tuesday night.

The seven-time British champion was due to undergo surgery on a damaged ankle in Scotland yesterday and looks set to miss the rest of the season.

Johnson said: “It’s really disappointing for the club to lose our number one just when he was hitting such good form. But I’m even more gutted for Scott to get injured at such an important stage of the season.

“He has played a big part in leading us to the top of the table and we just hope his operation is successful and his recovery is quick.”

Panthers will be entitled to draft in a guest for the injured Nicholls or could opt to use the rider replacement facility.

The loss of Nicholls is slightly offset by the return of Ulrich Ostergaard after two months out with broken ribs.

Bradley Wilson-Dean has also shaken off the effects of concussion and finger damage sustained in a heat 14 spill in the East Anglian derby triumph at Ipswich a fortnight ago.

Panthers go to Workington for their penultimate league fixture on Friday, September 14 with Johnson revealing a trip to current second-placed side Lakeside is likely to take place on Sunday, September 16. That is the new cut-off date for meetings to be completed ahead of the play-offs.

That clash against Lakeside will be at Rye House with the Hammers completing their campaign at the Hoddesdon venue. Lakeside’s own Arena Essex Raceway is set to close this month.

Panthers will be without captain Simon Lambert for the trip to Workington due to his wedding the next day. In-form Ipswich man Coty Garcia has been booked to guest.

Panthers meet Lakeside twice in one day on September 23 when both legs of their SGB Championship Shield semi-final take place. They will also travel to the Hammers’ new home on September 29 for the first leg of a KO Cup quarter-final.