It’s crunch time for the Panthers
PANTHERS are preparing for a crunch spell in their Elite League play-offs quest.
The city club have only completed three competitive meetings in a weather-plagued opening to the 2012 season, but they have already arrived at what is a key period in the eyes of joint team boss Trevor Swales.
Panthers face eight meetings in the space of just 21 days, starting with back-to-back trips to Birmingham tonight and Lakeside Hammers tomorrow.
And despite having just two home outings in the hectic spell during the remainder of May, Swales believes it is a time in which his men must lay the foundations for a top-four challenge.
He said: “It looks like being a wide open league this year and I would have thought at least eight out of the 10 teams have a realistic chance of making the play-offs.
“I obviously include ourselves in that but we have found out in the past how difficult it is to try and play catch-up so we have to get ourselves up there in contention for a top-four spot right from the word go.
“It has not been an ideal scenario by any means so far with meetings being lost to the weather but that’s something we just have to accept and move on.
“I’m pleased with what we achieved in the three meetings we have completed and now we need to make sure we return in top form.
“May is a really busy month and a really important one too. We need to make the most of the meetings coming up by putting plenty of points on the board even though the majority of them are away.”
Panthers make just their third visit to Perry Barr to face the Brummies since their return to the Elite League last year ahead of a second visit of the season to Lakeside. They got no further than the changing rooms last month when this match became one of four postponements they have endured already in the early weeks of the 2012 season.
Rene Bach and Richard Lawson get the nod for Panthers in the two doubling-up positions on both nights.
Bach is currently being preferred to Lasse Bjerre in the second string berth while Lawson continues to be first-choice at reserve despite some fine individual performances from Kyle Newman recently.
Newman has advanced to the World Under 21 Championship semifinals and the European Under 21 Fi- nal over the last two weekends.
He was dubbed ‘a credit to British speedway’ by national Under 21 boss Phil Morris but can’t oust Lawson to earn a competitive Panthers debut.
Lawson now has a new partner at reserve after experienced Dane Jesper B. Monberg dropped down the order with free-scoring Michael Jepsen Jensen heading the other way into the main body of the team.
Swales added: “Birmingham is still a relatively new track and they still have a big home advantage there while Lakeside is as technical and tricky as they come.
“We know we’re in for two tough meetings but we always hit the road with the aim of bringing back all four points and it will be no different on the next two nights.
“Should that not prove possible we have to ensure we pick up at least one point as an absolute minimum.”
Panthers: Kenneth Bjerre, Rene Bach, Olly Allen, Michael Jepsen Jensen, Linus Sundstrom, Richard Lawson, Jesper B. Monberg.