Panthers happy not to be tips for the top says team boss

Carl Johnson with the two trophies Panthers won last year.
Carl Johnson with the two trophies Panthers won last year.
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Team manager Carl Johnson is happy for Panthers to be written off again.

The city side are not among those being tipped to challenge for honours at SGB Championship level in 2018.

But Johnson believes the new-look septet assembled by club bosses can more than hold its own in an ultra-competitive second tier of the sport.

Following up the KO Cup and Fours triumphs of last year with further honours is the goal and Johnson believes that is possible with plenty of scope for improvement among Panthers’ chosen riders.

“No-one gave us a chance of success last season and we ended up with two trophies,” said Johnson. “So I don’t really mind if people aren’t putting us forward as contenders again this year.

“It’s all about opinions and I feel we’ve got a team where virtually every rider can improve on his starting average.

“Obviously it’s not certain that will happen, but the potential will be there and we’ll be in a good place if everyone performs to the levels we expect of them.

“We’ve got plenty of experience, we’ve got plenty of riders who love our track, and we’ve also got guys who can get us points on the road.

“Our aim is the same as every other team – to reach the play-offs and win a trophy. It would be great to follow up the successes of last season with some more silverware.

“The crucial thing is going to be consistency. It’s such a short season - with only one home and one away meeting in the league against every other team – that a bad run could really be damaging.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re winning and entertaining our fans at home and hopefully getting a few results on our travels.”

Johnson is particularly excited to be working with the club’s new number one Scott Nicholls in the coming months.

The two men were briefly Panthers team-mates almost a quarter-of-a-century ago before their careers veered off in rather different directions - Nicholls going on to become one of the sport’s leading stars with seven British titles and a stack of Grand Prix appearances, while Johnson failed to score in a handful of official meetings.

They rode together at reserve in a meeting at Stoke in 1994 which marked the re-opening of the Potteries club, but the partnership proved to be short-lived. While Nicholls dropped a hint of his class by piling up double-figures, Johnson crashed out in his first ride with an injured finger!

Johnson recalled: “I would have been 18 at the time and I think Scott was 16. Unfortunately riding with him didn’t last long, but it’s great to have the chance to work with him again now.

“Scott has been a real star of the sport and it’s brilliant to have him in the team. His knowledge and experience will be helpful to everyone.

“It’s not just great for us as a club to have him in our team – it’s brilliant for the whole league as he will put bums on seats around the country.

“But speedway is not just about one man. We have seven riders in the team and they all have a job to do if we are going to be successful.”