Wolverhampton host league leaders Peterborough live on Eurosport 2 on Monday in what promises to be an explosive start to British Speedway’s Premiership play-offs.
The Wolves and the Panthers have been the two outstanding teams over the 2021 campaign, with the East Anglian side finishing just one point clear at the top.
But with the other two play-off qualifiers – Belle Vue and Sheffield – both winning away matches at Peterborough this season, the Panthers took the unusual option of choosing to face their closest challengers in the semi-finals.
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That decision may also have been based on what happened when the sides met at Monmore Green just two weeks ago, when Peterborough raced to a sensational 48-42 victory.
Key to their results in the Black Country this season – they only lost narrowly on their first visit – has been the high-scoring of Hans Andersen at reserve, a position the Dane maintains this week before moving back into the main body of the side in October.
So it may well be that the Panthers feel their best opportunity of overcoming Wolves is with the sides in their current configurations, but whatever happens it looks set to be a hugely competitive tie over two legs.
Peterborough slipped to a shock home defeat to Sheffield last Monday but responded by hammering King’s Lynn 58-32 on Thursday, a result which officially confirmed their position as league leaders.
And skipper Scott Nicholls says the team written off as ‘Dad’s Army’ prior to the season can take great credit from their achievements so far – with the biggest tests still to come.
Nicholls said: “It’s a fantastic result for us. As I’ve said before, it wasn’t all about finishing top because sometimes that gives you a headache with the team choice, but for us old boys to finish top is a great achievement.
“But it doesn’t mean anything until the play-offs kick in properly. It was good to round out the league season with a good win at home, so we’ll take that with us and see if we can do the business home and away against Wolves.”
Meanwhile, the onus is on Wolverhampton to build a first leg lead, which has been a successful strategy for them in several play-off campaigns down the years.
Their home defeat to the Panthers earlier in the month was a rare blip in a solid campaign, and it was their first loss at Monmore in a regular league fixture since June 2019.
Captain Rory Schlein was absent a fortnight ago as he recovered from a bout of Covid, but he is back to lead the side as he goes into his final weeks of racing prior to retirement.
And Australian star Sam Masters, the longest-serving member of the team, says a similar experience five years ago could help provide further inspiration ahead of the semi-final.
Masters said: “I remember when we won the league in 2016, Belle Vue came here a couple of weeks before the play-offs and gave us a bit of a spanking at home.
“But when the Final came around, we beat them by 18 points here. We’ll use it as a kick up the backside to keep on top of things.”
All the action from the play-offs is live on Eurosport 2, with Wolverhampton v Peterborough on Monday from 7.30pm – and the second semi-final between Sheffield and Belle Vue gets underway on Thursday.
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