Sunday July 15, 2018
PETERBOROUGH extended their gap at the top of the Championship to seven points with a hard-earned 49-41 win over Sheffield on Sunday.

The T.Balfe Construction Panthers had to fight every inch of the way to secure a result which opens up a 15-point margin to the side outside the play-off places.

A last-heat decider had the cruellest of outcomes for Sheffield, who went into the race needing a 5-1 to force a draw, and ended up conceding one to end up with no points whatsoever.

Michael Palm Toft was instrumental in Panthers’ late victory surge, teaming up with first Emil Grondal and then Scott Nicholls for back-to-back 5-1s in the last two races after the Tigers had levelled matters at 39-39.

The Owlerton side proved to be more than stubborn opponents, with Charles Wright again showing his liking for the East of England Arena, and guest reserve Jordan Stewart also giving a lively display.

After two shared races to start the meeting – including an excellent ride by Tom Bacon to take control of Heat 2 – Panthers thought they had made the breakthrough in the third when Palm Toft and Bradley Wilson-Dean got themselves clear of Ty Proctor for a 5-1.

But the visitors hit back immediately with a shock maximum from Stewart and Wright over guest Jake Allen in Heat 4, and the two sides then proved very evenly matched.

Seven of the next eight races were shared, the only exception being Heat 7 when Allen turned things around to win, with Grondal in third place and only just missing out to Proctor.

But aside from that there was no way through as Wright defeated Nicholls in Heat 6 and Palm Toft in the ninth, whilst to counter that Lambert and Bacon both fought past Stewart on the first lap to ensure a 3-3 in Heat 8.

Wilson-Dean produced a smart fourth-bend move to go inside Stewart in Heat 12, and then fended off a late challenge from Proctor, to maintain the narrow advantage – but it was all change in the next race with Wright making it four rides unbeaten by blasting past Nicholls into turn three, whilst Kyle Howarth held Allen at bay for third place.

So Panthers needed their riders to step up in the final two races – and that was exactly what happened as Palm Toft and Grondal combined to squeeze out Broc Nicol in the early stages of Heat 14, as Stewart missed out from the outside.

And then in the decider, there was movement on the start-line from Howarth but he penalised himself when the tapes went up, and to the delight of the Panthers fans it was Palm Toft and Nicholls who completed the victory and smashed Wright’s maximum hopes in the process.

Boss Carl Johnson said: “It was a perfect result in the end with us taking three points and them taking nothing, and it keeps the crowd happy as well!

“As I say every week, people come here and love the place, they know how to ride it, and the likes of Charles Wright and Ty Proctor and bringing in a reserve like Jordan Stewart are always going to make it tough.

“They dragged us back at one stage, but we have a great team spirit and we know we always come strong towards the end, and it was fantastic to do it in Heats 14 and 15.

“I’m not going to say we’ve got one foot in the play-offs – but we’re just confident that we can carry on doing what we’re doing. Yes, we look at the table, but until it comes to the nitty-gritty we just want to keep banging in the points, and hopefully it will keep us at the top.

“Jake Allen was the first to come up to me and apologise for what he felt was the worst meeting he’s ever had around here. It wasn’t ideal of course, but we only go on what he’s done in the past here when he’s been flying, so we would have been silly not to use him.”

Panthers now have a near two-week break from team action, although Nicholls and Palm Toft represent the club in the Championship Pairs at Somerset on Friday.

PETERBOROUGH 49: 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 4+1.
SHEFFIELD 41: Charles Wright 12+1, Jordan Stewart 7+2, Todd Kurtz 7+1, Ty Proctor 7, Kyle Howarth 6, Georgie Wood 1+1, Broc Nicol 1.

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