Peterborough Panthers saved arguably their best until last to clinch top spot in the SGB Championship last night (September 15).
The patched-up city side - featuring three guests - triumphed 50-40 against fellow play-offs qualifiers Lakeside at the Hammers’ new Rye House base in their final outing of the regular season.
It was a terrific late show from Panthers on a night when they didn’t even take to the track until around 9.15pm as the second part of a double-header with Lakeside earlier beating Newcastle.
But it was worth the wait as double-figure displays from Bradley Wilson-Dean and Emil Grondal spearheaded an emphatic success.
Delighted team boss Carl Johnson said: “Finishing top has been our goal for some time and it’s something I feel we deserve.
“We were very disappointed with what we produced at Workington on Friday night and it was fantastic to see us put it right so quickly.
“We had to wait a long time to get on track and the riders really had to keep their focus, but Rye House is a place where we’ve had success in the past and a lot of our boys love riding there.
“We got ourselves ahead early on and managed to stay there throughout the meeting. It’s great to end the regular season with another fine performance and win on the road.”
Panthers slammed in two early 5-1s courtesy of Grondal and guest number one Ben Barker in heat one and the Michael Palm Toft/Wilson-Dean combination in the third contest.
Lakeside hit back with a maximum return of their own in heat four before Grondal and Barker replied instantly in the next race after home rider Adam Ellis was penalised at the start.
The Hammers sent our star man Nick Morris as a tactical substitute in heat six and he led their number one Richard Lawson to a 5-1, But Grondal, reserve guest James Sarjeant and Wilson-Dean then claimed victories in a series of three successive 4-2s as Panthers asserted again.
And when the latter two of those riders - Wilson-Dean and Sarjeant - roared to a 5-1 in heat 12 the visitors’ success was secured while a further full house from their other guest reserve, Carl Wilkinson, and Palm Toft in the penultimate race secured all four league points.
And while Lakeside pair Morris, who pulled off an 18-point maximum, and Lawson bagged 5-1s in heats 13 and 15, this was undoubtedly Panthers’ night.
Their reward for finishing top of the standings is the right to select their opponents for the play-offs semi-finals - and the smart money is on them opting to face the fourth-placed Hammers. Glasgow, in second, and Workington, who currently sit third, are the other qualifiers.
But Johnson insists they won’t rush such a crucial decision, adding: “The management and the riders will be chatting in the next couple of days about who we face.
“It’s important we strongly consider all of our options and we’ll look to make an announcement early next week.”
Panthers face Lakeside again next Sunday (September 23) in both legs of a KO Cup semi-final.
LAKESIDE: Nick Morris 18, Richard Lawson 7+3, Matt Wethers (guest) 7, Adam Ellis 4, Alfie Bowtell 2+1, Ben Morley 2, Rider replacement for Kyle Newman.
PANTHERS: Bradley Wilson-Dean 10+1, Emil Grondal 10+1, Ben Barker (guest) 8+2, James Sarjeant (guest) 7+2, Michael Palm Toft 7+2, Carl Wilkinson (guest) 6, Ulrich Ostergaard 2.