Michael Palm Toft delivered another sensational late show as table-topping Peterborough Panthers zoomed seven points clear at the SGB Championship summit yesterday (July 15).
The Danish racer inspired 5-1s in the final two races as the city men triumphed 49-41 against title-holders Sheffield in a tense East of England Arena clash.
The two sides were level with two races to go but Palm Toft formed winning alliances with countryman Emil Grondal in the penultimate contest and number one Scott Nicholls in the finale to send the reigning champions home empty-handed.
It was the second meeting in succession that Palm Toft has won the final two races. He managed the same feat when Scunthorpe were seen off 48-42 on Friday (July 13) in the first part of a crucial Alwalton double-bill.
And, just as 48 hours earlier, Panthers delivered a solid team showing that carried them 15 points clear of the team immediately below the play-off zone.
They look all-but-assured of a top-four finish, but team boss Carl Johnson is not getting carried away. He said: “That was probably the perfect outcome – getting the win and making sure Sheffield left with nothing after a close meeting that kept the fans entertained right up to the final race.
“The target for these two home meetings was six points and we’ve managed to get them to strengthen our position in the table.
“Opposition riders love to come here and that makes every home meeting a tough one, but we know we can finish a meeting strongly and we’ve done that on Friday and against yesterday.
“I’ve heard people say we have one foot in the play-offs, but we’re not looking that far ahead. We just want to keep doing what we’re doing and picking up points.”
The meeting began with back-to-back shared races. Sheffield man Todd Kurtz took the flag in a processional opener before Panthers reserve Tom Bacon swooped round the pack to hit the front and earn victory in the second instalment
The hosts hit the front when Palm Toft and Bradley Wilson-Dean combined for a 5-1 in heat three, but the response was just as emphatic from Sheffield guest Jordan Stewart and star turn Charles Wright as they restored parity.
That’s the way it stayed following two more deadlocks. Wilson-Dean triumphed and Palm Toft brought up the rear in the first of them before Wright, a man with a previous East of England Arena maximum to his name, kept Nicholls at bay in heat six.
Panthers edged back ahead when guest Jake Allen stormed clear to triumph in a 4-2 in the next race with Emil Grondal tucking in for third spot. That was the stand-out ride from Allen who’s performance in Panthers’ colours certainly wasn’t as prolific as that which he produced against them for his regular club, Scunthorpe, 48 hours earlier.
A suspiciously quick start allowed Kurtz to claim his second victory of the meeting as honours were again even in heat eight and Wright then followed suit when seeing off Palm Toft and Wilson-Dean in the ninth contest.
Nicholls bagged his first success in heat 10 to maintain the hosts’ two-point advantage at two-thirds distance and the run of shared races increased to four when rival number one Kyle Howarth triumphed as the action resumed after the interval.
Wilson-Dean forced his way past Stewart to earn victory in heat 12 but it wasn’t enough to secure an advantage with partner Bacon bringing up the rear, but the run of deadlocks was finally ended by the visitors in heat 13.
They claimed a 4-2 to level after Wright completed a hat-trick of successes by squeezing through the tightest of back-straight gaps to pass Nicholls on the opening lap.
But it didn’t stay that way for long as Palm Toft seized the initiative with able assistance from Grondal and Nicholls to provide a big finish to a tight meeting.
Panthers are now without a league meeting for three weeks. The next one is at home to East Anglian rivals Ipswich on Sunday, August 5.
That forms part of a double-header with a KO Cup quarter-final second leg against Lakeside. The first leg of that clash is on Friday, July 27.
Panthers will battle for their second trophy of the season this Friday (July 20) when Nicholls and Palm Toft represent them in the annual SGB Championship Pairs at Somerset.
PANTHERS: Scott Nicholls 11+1, Michael Palm Toft 11, Bradley Wilson-Dean 9+2, Emil Grondal 5+1, Tom Bacon 5+1, Simon Lambert 4+2, Jake Allen (guest) 4+1.
SHEFFIELD: Charles Wright 12+1, Todd Kurtz 7+1, Jordan Stewart 7+1, Ty Proctor (guest) 7, Kyle Howarth 6, Georgie Wood 1+1, Broc Nicol 1.