Peterborohgh Panthers team chief Carl Johnson was magnanimous in the wake of the SGB Championship KO Cup success last night (October 26).
While Johnson insists the city team deserved their second trophy triumph of 2017 following a terrific end to the campaign, he was quick to admit that defeat was harsh on final opponents Ipswich.
The Witches lost key riders Rory Schlein (first leg) and Danny King (second leg) to injuries during a showpiece clash that Panthers edged 92-88 on aggregate. A 47-43 triumph in the first leg last Sunday (October 22) proved crucial ahead of a 45-45 deadlock in the return last night (October 26).
“We’ve been on a great run in the final weeks of the season and I think we probably deserved this trophy for that form alone,” said Johnson.
“We knew the play-offs were beyond us by the end of August, but we couldn’t allow our performances to drop off.
“The boys responded brilliantly to win our final seven league meetings and then bring the season to a perfect end with another piece of silverware.
“But I told the Ipswich management and riders that they didn’t deserve to lose the final.
“They had bad luck in both meetings. No-one ever wants to see riders injured, but we had to use it to our advantage.
“There has to be a winner and a loser, and thankfully it was us who came out on top even thought it was tight in the end.
“It’s good for the riders, good for the management team and good for the supporters.”
Johnson admitted he had full faith in his chosen men - Chris Harris and guest Ben Barker - to finish the job in a last-heat decider at the end of the second leg.
Panthers went into the closing contest in possession of a four-point aggregate advantage and that’s the way it stayed as their duo followed in Witches guest Scott Nicholls in a race awarded following a last-lap spill for Cameron Heeps.
“Chris and Ben have ridden a lot together this year at Rye House in the SGB Premiership,” continued Johnson.
“We were left with gates two and four, and they weren’t sure which was the best way to go.
“I made the call to put Ben on two as he is the better gater and left Chris to blast around the outside. Thankfully it worked out.”
The absence of Panthers’ number one Jack Holder for the second leg of their semi-final triumph and both legs of the final has been a major talking point in the sport.
Holder has returned to his native Australia after being signed off with tonsilitis and Johnson admits it is a shame the 21 year-old couldn’t be part of the success. Holder also missed the club’s Fours victory back in August while racing in Poland.
But another rider who has been laid low with illness - second-string Bradley Wilson-Dean - did return last night. And his involvement was valuable despite the fact he failed to score.
“Jack has been signed off with a sicknote. Where he is, or why he is there, is not really my concern,” added Johnson.
“My focus was on the team - just as it has been all year with different things going on in the background - and the job of winning the KO Cup.
“Jack has been excellent this season and we would obviously have liked him in the side, but he wasn’t available due to illness and we have to accept that.
“Jack could have stayed and supported the boys, but he has chosen to go back to Australia and unfortunately missed out on a great night.
“Having Bradley back was a big plus. He might have struggled on track, but he is a big character off it and played his part.
“Bradley being well enough to ride allowed us to get a guest in at number one - and I don’t think we would have won the trophy without Ben, who was excellent.”