REPORT: Peterborough Panthers take the shine off Diamonds to stay top

Scott Nicholls scored 10pts for Panthers against Newcastle.
Scott Nicholls scored 10pts for Panthers against Newcastle.
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Peterborough Panthers ended a hectic spell on a high last night (May 19).

The city men saw off Newcastle Diamonds 49-41 in an early-season SGB Championship top-versus-bottom tussle at the East of England Arena – their fifth outing in 16 days.

Ulrich Ostergaard (left) and Michael Palm Toft rode well for Panthers against Newcastle.

Ulrich Ostergaard (left) and Michael Palm Toft rode well for Panthers against Newcastle.

It certainly wasn’t a cakewalk for the pacesetting Panthers – a team three points clear at the second-tier summit, but who have already completed at least three more meetings than all but one of their rivals – thanks largely to the performances of two visiting riders.

Reserve revelation Ash Morris (a rider who represented Panthers for part of the 2016 season) and second-choice guest Jake Allen (a man only drafted in when original selection Gino Manzares was badly hurt the previous night in a crash which also left Panthers man Nike Lunna nursing a broken ankle) both racked up 13 points for the Diamonds.

They combined for a 5-1 in the final heat when keeping star Panthers turn Michael Palm Toft – who followed up an 18-point maximum last Sunday with a 15-point haul on this occasion - at bay.

And even though the contest was already over by that point, it still provided one of a number of exhilarating races as a very slick surface, which was worn down by several hours of other racing in the MCN Festival ahead of this meeting, did nothing to lower the level of entertainment.

Panthers led from start to finish, but never really looked like casting the Diamonds adrift until slamming in two 5-1s in the space of three races – and both of them featured Ulrich Ostergaard.

The former skipper led in present captain Simon Lambert, who looked much sharper than in recent meetings, for the first of them in heat 11 before being followed home by number one Scott Nicholls in the 13th contest as overall victory was sealed.

Success for Palm Toft in a terrific penultimate heat – when he went from last to first while Lambert unfortunately slipped in the other direction – ensured Newcastle would leave empty-handed, but that didn’t stop them providing a final flourish courtesy of their top pair Allen and Morris.

“It was tight for much of the meeting, but we got on top with the two 5-1s,” said team boss Carl Johnson.

“Newcastle had a guest in Jake who is flying and a reserve in Ash who has been a real star this season. It wasn’t easy to shake them off.

“We realise we’re probably not going to blow teams away at home this season, but we’ve picked up three wins from four league meetings at our place.

“Obviously everyone knows what happened against Workington in the other one, but we’ve bounced back well with two victories. Nine points from five meetings during May is a pretty decent return and has kept us in a good position.

“A break of almost three weeks now is certainly not ideal. We’d rather be riding and seeing the boys getting time on track, but it does at least give them to get over any niggles and come back fresh.”

One man nursing more than a niggle is Lunna. The Finnish ace suffered a broken ankle and knee damage when involved in two crashes while guesting for Workington at Scunthorpe on Friday.

He is expected to be out for around six weeks which is a huge concern for Johnson with six meetings coming up in June.

The Panthers team boss added: “The rider replacement facility worked well for us against Newcastle as Nike has struggled a bit at home, but he’s been valuable to us on the road.

“We also have to think about whether or not we want to be going into meetings with six riders for quite a length of time.

“We’re not going to jump the gun and do anything silly, but we know we have options and we’ll consider them over the next few days.”

SCORES

PANTHERS: Michael Palm Toft 15, Scott Nicholls 10+1, Ulrich Ostergaard 9+1, Simon Lambert 6+2, Emil Grondal 6, Tom Bacon 3, Rider replacement for Nike Lunna.

NEWCASTLE: Ash Morris 13+2, Jake Allen 13 (guest), Matt Wethers 5, Carl Wilkinson 4+2, Ludvig Lindgren 4+1, Jonas B. Andersen (guest) 2, Rider replacement for Tero Aarnio.