Panthers banking on Barker for a cup final upset

Scott Nicholls raced for Panthers against Ipswich on Sunday. Tonight he switches sides.
Scott Nicholls raced for Panthers against Ipswich on Sunday. Tonight he switches sides.
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Panthers team boss Carl Johnson wants guest star Ben Barker to go from villain to hero in the ultimate fashion tonight (Thursday).

The city team have drafted in Barker to fill in at number one for the second leg of their SGB Championship KO Cup Final at Ipswich (7.30pm). He replaces the ill Jack Holder.

Barker looks to be a shrewd booking as a former Witches rider capable of piling up points around a tricky Foxhall track. The Cornishman has also enjoyed a fine 2017 season.

However, his presence in the Panthers septet represents a u-turn from club bosses who vowed not to hire him again after he controversially cried off from a guest booking at Glasgow back in July.

But that appears to have been forgiven as Barker slots into a Panthers side which is also boosted by the return of New Zealand champion Bradley Wilson-Dean following illness.

“What happened then is in the past with regard to Ben,” said team boss Carl Johnson. “He let us down badly on that occasion and he is well aware of that.

“But we also have to take into account that he is the best man for the job tonight. He is a former Ipswich rider who knows the track well - and he is a former Panthers man who knows how much it would mean to us to win this piece of silverware.

“Ben is a huge talent and he has a reputation of being a hard rider which is something we will need in a cup final for a trophy up for grabs.

“It’s also great to have Bradley back. He piled up double-figures at Ipswich back in April and he is itching to get racing after missing a lot of meetings in the second half of the season.”

Panthers look to face a daunting task as they go to Ipswich with just a four-point cushion following a 47-43 success in the first leg last Sunday.

They have suffered 28-point and 11-point defeats in their two SGB Championship visits this year and will have to perform considerably better on this occasion to stand any chance of capturing KO Cup honours at second-tier level for the first time in 25 years.

Panthers have booked Jack Parkinson-Blackburn to step in at reserve for the third time in four meetings with Tom Bacon out following shoulder surgery. Scott Campos, who guested in that position in the first leg, is named as number eight.

“This is the strongest team we could track in the circumstances and I’m confident the boys will give a good account of themselves,” said Johnson.

“Whether that is enough to lift the trophy – we’ll find out later. But I can assure everyone that we are not going to Ipswich to roll over.”

One member of the club’s line-up on Sunday will be in the opposition camp tonight. Scott Nicholls, who replaced Holder at the East of England Arena, now steps in for Ipswich in place of injured Rory Schlein. Nicholls would not have been eligible to guest for Holder tonight due to his average being too high for an away meeting.