Sunday August 05, 2018
MICHAEL Palm Toft won a last heat decider to ensure Peterborough got some reward with a 45-45 draw against local rivals Ipswich at the East of England Arena on Sunday.

There was little to split the T.Balfe Construction Panthers and the Witches in a ding-dong derby once the visitors had clawed back an early six-point deficit, edging in front themselves with two races to go, before the home side chiselled out a point.

The result coupled with Glasgow’s big win at Newcastle means that although Panthers go back to the top of the table, they are likely to need more points from their hectic upcoming away schedule to guarantee a top-four finish – something which 2018 history shows they are more then capable of achieving.

Panthers, Lakeside, Workington, Ipswich, Glasgow and Edinburgh now appear to be the sides battling to finish in the top four with just over a month remaining prior to the cut-off.

Skipper Simon Lambert got Panthers off to a winning start by holding Cameron Heeps at bay in Heat 1 as the big guns missed out, before Tom Bacon and Emil Grondal made light work of their Witches counterparts with maximum points in the reserves’ race.

Two Ipswich wins followed with Nico Covatti taking the flag in Heat 3 and guest Adam Ellis matching his 60.3 time in the next race as the visitors narrowed the gap to 14-10.

And the Witches completed their early comeback in Heat 5 as Rory Schlein and Heeps launched from the start to race clear of Bradley Wilson-Dean and Palm Toft for a surprise 5-1 to level the scores.

The visitors had further success in Heat 6 with Ellis riding strongly to hold Scott Nicholls at bay, and Covatti made it five straight Ipswich winners in a shared seventh.

The run of Witches’ victories ended in Heat 8 with a super ride by Bacon to take the flag, but Panthers were unable to regain the lead as Lambert found himself pegged at the back – despite a collision between Ipswich duo Heeps and Coty Garcia going into the second lap from which both managed to continue.

Palm Toft, though, ended the unbeaten run of Ellis in Heat 9 and with Wilson-Dean in third place Panthers edged into a 28-26 advantage.

But that was cancelled out immediately in a frantic Heat 10 where Nicholls was left at the back from gate 4 and had to work overtime to split Mark Riss and Covatti, passing the Italian as they headed into the final bend.

Guest Ben Barker overcame earlier mechanical issues to keep Schlein back in Heat 11, but Grondal’s attempt to go between the visitors off turn two was thwarted in another shared race.

Heat 12 produced a contender for race of the season, with Covatti and Wilson-Dean engaged in an epic scrap up front whilst Bacon and Garcia were doing likewise over third place. Covatti took the verdict by inches for the win, having passed BWD twice during the race, whilst Bacon overhauled Garcia and repelled his opponent’s outside attempts to respond.

But the scores were still level, and the match then swung the Witches’ way with a fast Schlein start to win Heat 13, and whilst Nicholls cleared Ellis in the early stages he wasn’t able to prevent a 4-2.
Panthers hit straight back with a 4-2 of their own in Heat 14, with Palm Toft and Grondal initially gating on a 5-1 before Mark Riss pounced for second place and Grondal was forced to abort his last bend attempt to re-pass.

That meant it was 42-42 going into the decider, and with Nicholls squeezed out from gate 4 the Witches briefly held a 4-2 position before Palm Toft stormed inside Schlein going into the third bend to force a draw.

Manager Carl Johnson said: “It’s disappointing to only take one point, but when you look back at the meeting a draw was probably the fair result.

“They were winning plenty of races and we had to look at sneaking in a few 4-2s of our own to turn the meeting.

“It didn’t quite work out like that – I thought we were going to get the 5-1 in Heat 14 which would have been enough, but that’s speedway, the riders push themselves all the time and they do make mistakes. There’s nothing you can do about that.

“We always give the top-scorer the choice of gate positions for Heat 15 and Michael took gate two and did his job, it was just unfortunate that Scott got close a couple of times but just not close enough.

“If we’d got the three points I would have said yes, we’ll be in the play-offs, but now we probably need a couple more to be certain, and if you get into the mindset that you’re in you can take your foot off the gas too easily.

Panthers now have four away matches in succession – and await a new date to visit Workington – starting at Lakeside on Friday (August 10).

PETERBOROUGH 45: Michael Palm Toft 11, Tom Bacon 8+2, Scott Nicholls 7, Ben Barker 6+1, Emil Grondal 5+1, Simon Lambert 4+1, Bradley Wilson-Dean 4.
IPSWICH 45: Nico Covatti 11+1, Rory Schlein 10, Adam Ellis 9, Cameron Heeps 7+2, Mark Riss 6, Coty Garcia 2+1, David Wallinger 0.

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