MEETING PREVIEW: Monarchs reign supreme at Alwalton

Ashley Morris (red) in action for Panthers against Edinburgh. Photo: David Lowndes.
Ashley Morris (red) in action for Panthers against Edinburgh. Photo: David Lowndes.
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Promoter Ged Rathbone urged Peterborough Panthers fans to stay positive in the wake of another home setback yesterday (August 7).

The city racers slumped to a fifth East of England Showground loss of 2016 in all competitions when going down 52-39 to an excellent Edinburgh Monarchs side.

Panthers star Craig Cook leads heat six in the meeting against Edinburgh. Photo: David Lowndes.

Panthers star Craig Cook leads heat six in the meeting against Edinburgh. Photo: David Lowndes.

The reigning champions hit the front early on and never looked back as Panthers had to suffer the ignominy of requiring a tactical ride on their own shale.

But even that double-points mission failed to inspire a comeback as captain Ulrich Ostergaard could only manage a second place in heat nine to earn a 5-3 return.

That was one of just four advantages provided by Panthers and they were responsible only six heat wins as well – shared between three men.

Number one Craig Cook reeled off a hat-trick before fading in his final two rides while Ostergaard triumphed in his last two outings. Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen was the other man to take the chequered flag in front, but he again under-performed.

Nikolas Busk Jakobsen whips up a dust storm for Panthers in the meeting against Edinburgh. Photo: David Lowndes.

Nikolas Busk Jakobsen whips up a dust storm for Panthers in the meeting against Edinburgh. Photo: David Lowndes.

He certainly wasn’t alone in doing that as four members of the home team – Zdenek Holub, Emil Grondal, Tom Perry and Ashley Morris – could only manage the same combined tally of 10+2 that Monarchs reserve talent Dan Bewley (17) slammed in single-handedly when racing at Alwalton for the first time.

It was a sub-standard display from Panthers which was followed by a clear hint from promoter Rathbone that changes could be in the offing. The club now have until August 31 to tweak their team.

Rathbone said: “I’ve not let the supporters down in the past, and I can promise I will not let them down now either.

“They have to trust me to make the right decisions for the team to ensure we qualify for the play-offs and are then capable of challenging for the title.

“It is going to be difficult to stay in the top six, but we will do everything we can to do it. We’ve really got to get our fingers out now individually and collectively.”

Panthers riders again appeared ill at ease on their own track yesterday – a regular problem this season.

A grippy and well-watered surface soon became dry and slick in sunny and windy conditions, and that played into the hands of the visitors.

Panthers hit problems as early as the second heat when Ashley Morris and Zdenek Holub saw a 5-1 in their favour turn into an Edinburgh 4-2 in the space of three-quarters of a lap.

Morris hit mechanical problems when leading and retired before Holub was unable to prevent whizzkid Bewley from darting down his inside to hit the front.

That proved to be the first of four successive Monarchs gains as back-to-back 5-1s followed ahead of a 3-2 to the visitors in a bizarre heat five.

Mark Riss jumped the start but then immediately retired so referee Mick Posselwhite allowed the race to continue. Grondal then hit back trouble and was lapped by Edinburgh number one Sam Masters just before the finish, meaning he also had to retire with Ostergaard the only other finisher.

Cook did briefly stem the tide by inspiring a 4-2 in heat six, just as he had done in the opening race, but another Edinburgh 5-1 in heat eight from Bewley and Riss carried them 11 points clear.

Panthers team boss Carl Johnson immediately deployed Ostergaard on a tactical ride, but he and partner Grondal both had to battle past Edinburgh reserve Max Clegg to fill the minor places as visiting top-scorer Kevin Wolbert cruised home in a different postal district to his rivals.

That outcome left Panthers nine points down with six races to go and they never looked like salvaging the situation.

Busk Jakobsen did inspire a 4-2 in heat 11 to briefly cut the arrears to seven points, but he then trailed in at the back as Edinburgh wrapped up victory with two races to spare following a 5-1 in heat 13 from the Masters/Wolbert combination.

A triumph from former Panthers man Ryan Fisher in a penultimate race 4-2 then secured all four available league points for the visitors.

Ostergaard did restore a bit of pride by holding off the hard-charging pair of Wolbert and Masters in a thrilling finale, but that was far too little, way too late from Panthers.

Rathbone added: “I knew it was going to be an extremely difficult task against Edinburgh and it was clear to see again that we are not strong enough as a team.

“There was a big event on at the East of England Showground during the week as well and that meant the track couldn’t be prepared in the way we really wanted it.

“It ended up being incredibly slick and caught out a lot of our riders, and that’s something we’re going to have to address with our landlords to try to get some consistency.

“But our riders should be arriving with two bikes that have completely different set-ups. I’ve been saying this to them for five or six weeks now, but who knows whether or not they are listening?”

Panthers drop to fourth in the standings after being leapfrogged by Edinburgh, but they’re now looking nervously over their shoulders at sides sitting just outside the play-off zone with meetings in hand.

Workington trail them by seven points but have ridden three fewer meetings while Newcastle are eight points behind but have completed five less meetings than Panthers at this point.

Panthers are back in action with two away tests in the space of 24 hours later this week. They head to Scotland for a return clash against Edinburgh on Friday (August 12, 7.30pm) before going to Berwick the following night (August 13, 7pm).

SCORES

PANTHERS: Ulrich Ostergaard 13, Craig Cook 10, Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen 6, Zdenek Holub 3+1, Emil Grondal 3+1, Tom Perry 3, Ashley Morris 1.

EDINBURGH: Kevin Wolbert 12+1, Sam Masters 11+1, Dan Bewley 10+2, Ryan Fisher 9+2, Erik Riss 7, Mark Riss 2+1, Max Clegg 1.