Lakeside took the advantage in their Championship play-off semi-final with a terrific 46-44 win at Peterborough on Sunday.
The Hammers’ fifth visit to the East of England Arena this season turned out to be the best as they turned around an early six-point deficit, and they now lead ahead of next Sunday’s second leg at Hoddesdon.
In a highly entertaining meeting, Adam Ellis pulled off three successive wins in the middle of the contest and there were also vital successes for Nick Morris and Ben Morley amongst a hard-working team display.
Hammers had to wait until Heat 5 for a race win, with home reserve Simon Lambert producing an inspired display to help the Panthers into an early lead.
Lambert won the first two races, edging out Morley in a classic Heat 2 battle, and then partnered Michael Palm Toft to maximum points in an awarded Heat 4 when Morris crashed on the second lap.
But the visitors got into their stride with an excellent Richard Lawson/Zach Wajtknecht 5-1 over Ulrich Ostergaard in Heat 5, and after Morris had rounded Lambert on the final bend in the next, Ellis and Kyle Newman banged in a match-levelling maximum over Palm Toft in Heat 7.
On-the-line decisions continued to go against the Hammers with Lambert holding on from Wajtknecht to complete a 5-1 in Heat 8, and Newman’s late charge on Steve Worrall in Heat 10 also proving unsuccessful.
But in between, Morris was a dominant winner of Heat 9 and Morley collected third place from Emil Grondal to cut the gap back two.
Lawson was overhauled by Palm Toft in Heat 11 as the Panthers edged a 4-2 but the Hammers kept on fighting with three 4-2s in the next three races – Heat 13 providing plenty of thrills as Morris came from last to first with a super outside blast, whilst Lawson re-passed Palm Toft for third.
That levelled the scores, and Morley then conjured a flying start to Heat 14 to hold Lambert at bay with Newman supplying the all-important third place to put the visitors ahead.
And although Morris’s considerable efforts weren’t enough to remove Palm Toft from the lead in Heat 15, Ellis kept Worrall at the back to ensure a narrow advantage for the Hammers at half-time in the tie.
Manager Will Pottinger said: “There wasn’t a lot between the teams throughout, but we really came into it in the second half of the meeting when we found our set-ups.
“You want your riders to do it when it really matters, so that’s really pleasing. We know how good Ben can be, and he made a great start in Heat 14 and rode a really good race.
“We fought hard for every point and there was a good team spirit as well with us being back at full strength, so things are going in the right direction and now we want to push on and finish the season strongly.
“We’ve got a couple of points’ advantage, but we’ll still view the second leg in the same way, that it’s 0-0, because Peterborough have good riders who can go well at Rye House, and we don’t have much home track advantage. We certainly won’t take it lightly as I’m sure they will put out the strongest team they can.
“So psychologically it’s good for us but we’ve got to finish the job off next Sunday – and it’s nice finally be leaving here with a win after our fifth visit this season!”
Peterborough Panthers 44:
Simon Lambert 16+1, Michael Palm Toft 9+1, Ulrich Ostergaard 9, Steve Worrall 6+1, Jordan Stewart 4, Emil Grondal 0, Bradley Wilson-Dean r/r.
Lakeside Hammers 46:
Adam Ellis 12+1, Nick Morris 10, Richard Lawson 7+1, Ben Morley 7, Zach Wajtknecht 5+1, Kyle Newman 4+2, Alfie Bowtell 1.
Image: The victorious Hammers (Alfie missed the photo call)