Thursday August 23, 2018
PETERBOROUGH fired up their play-off bid with a critical 49-41 win in a local derby thriller at Ipswich on Thursday.

The two weakened sides served up an extraordinary encounter at Foxhall with the T.Balfe Construction Panthers racing into an early ten-point lead before suddenly coming under pressure late in the meeting.

The Witches could have levelled the scores in Heat 14 but reserve Tom Bacon completed a stunning display with a his fourth win of the night – and a 5-1 followed in the decider as Scott Nicholls and guest Paul Starke held their nerve to give Panthers all four league points.

The result takes them six points clear at the top of the table and gives them critical breathing space on the chasing pack, especially as their main rivals slipped up with Edinburgh being held to a draw at Sheffield, whilst Workington were limited to one league point from a narrow defeat at Redcar.

Should Panthers win their final home match against Berwick (Sept 9), this victory effectively means Edinburgh and Glasgow both need to enjoy significant success on the road (whilst being unbeaten at home) to push them out of the top four, all that assuming Lakeside and Workington maintain their form too – and additionally, several of those sides still have to face each other.

Both the Panthers and the Witches had been forced into changes on the day with Michael Palm Toft and Ipswich guest Adam Ellis being ruled out after crashes last night.

But it was the visitors who adapted better as, after a shared Heat 1 won by Nicholls, Bacon set his stall out by heading up a 4-2 in Heat 2 and two big 5-1s followed.

Nicholls took an early rider-replacement ride to team up with Bradley Wilson-Dean in Heat 3 as the duo quickly cleared Mark Riss, and Bacon shocked Foxhall by gating to another 5-1 with Starke as home man Nico Covatti missed out completely.

With Nicholls taking a shared Heat 5, it gave Panthers a ten-point lead to defend during the mid phase of the meeting which would not involve their flying No.1.

For the most part, that defence was successful, and the Witches were fortunate to benefit from mechanical problems for Starke in Heats 6 and 7 which allowed them to gain points back.

Reserve Coty Garcia was a major threat for the home side and his Heat 8 win helped cut the gap to six, but Starke controlled Heat 9 even though Emil Grondal lost control and came to grief from third place.

And when Bacon and Wilson-Dean roared to another 5-1 over Covatti and Kyle Newman in Heat 10, Panthers looked home and dry at 35-25 up.

That was far from the end of the story, though, as Garcia gave the Witches some hope by beating Nicholls in Heat 11 for a 4-2, and Cameron Heeps gave them another win in the next although Grondal retrieved third place from youngster Drew Kemp.

But in Heat 13, Nicholls was penalised for touching the tapes, and could make no impression from the handicap, with Covatti passing Starke going into the last lap to complete a 5-1 with Garcia which set the alarm bells ringing.

The pressure cranked up still further in Heat 14 when a major tangle on the second lap involved both Wilson-Dean and Bacon, along with Riss for the Witches, and Wilson-Dean was disqualified much to Panthers’ fury.

That heaped Panthers’ hopes on Bacon to take them into the last race ahead, and he rose to the occasions superbly to get the better of Garcia and Riss leaving the scores at 44-40 in the visitors’ favour.

That meant only a maximum concession could prevent an away win, but Panthers needed a 5-1 of their own to take all four points – and at the end of roller-coaster evening, Nicholls and Starke gave the travelling fans just the result they wanted with a big start to see off Heeps and Covatti, and move Peterborough ever closer to the play-offs.

Manager Carl Johnson said: “It was nip-and-tuck but we got the job done, so it’s a fantastic result.

“We got ourselves ten points up and were controlling things really, but fair play to them because they came back at us well in the latter stages.

“From where we were, everyone said Heat 14 was the wrong decision to disqualify Bradley. How can you disqualify a rider who’s riding in a straight line and somebody takes his front wheel out? You’re supposed to give racing room, and yet he’s literally ploughed into him, and there was nothing Bradley could have done to get out of it.

“But obviously Tom stepped up to beat both Ipswich boys in the re-run, and then it was a case of sending Scotty and Starkey out to finish the job for us.

“Ipswich is one of Tom’s favourite tracks, we know he likes the place, but for him to score 14 was fantastic. I did give him a hard time earlier in the season with chopping and changing him, but I think he’s grown for it.

“He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but now he’s really stepped up and come to the fore. The tracks do suit him being a bit slicker, but he’s still got to put himself in the positions, make starts and still be racy, and he was every one of them.

“I’m not saying we’re 100 per cent certain, but I do feel we have one foot in the play-offs now and we’re waggling it about! But we’ll focus on what we’re doing and keep pushing, because we want to finish top if we can and that then gives you choice in the semis.

“I don’t think Tofty (Palm Toft) will be out for long, it was just precautionary for him to sit out and get some rest after riding through the pain barrier in a lot of meetings recently.

“But Bradley is a concern after tonight. He took a big bang and potentially he could have broken one if not two fingers, which wouldn’t be good for us with the way he’s been going – he’d be a huge loss.

“I think he’s going to hospital tonight to get checked over – it was a hard crash and it actually ripped the mouth-guard off his helmet, so that tells you how bad it was.”

IPSWICH 41: Cameron Heeps 11+2, Fernando Garcia 11+2, Mark Riss 7+2, Nico Covatti 6, Kyle Newman 5, Drew Kemp 1, Rory Schlein r/r
PETERBOROUGH 49: Tom Bacon 14, Scott Nicholls 13+1, Bradley Wilson-Dean 9+2, Paul Starke 9+1, Emil Grondal 4+1, Simon Lambert 0, Michael Palm Toft r/r
Championship points: Ipswich 0 Peterborough 4

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