SPEEDWAY: Sacked rider helps Panthers back to the top

Craig Cook led the way for Panthers.

Craig Cook led the way for Panthers.

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They say football is a funny old game. That must make speedway completely and utterly bonkers then.

Peterborough Panthers climbed back to the top of the Premier League table last night with a terrific 50-40 triumph against big-spending title rivals Glasgow at the East of England Showground.

Their victory was clinched by a penultimate-race success from a rider they sacked barely a month ago, but who returned as a rather handy guest last night.

Michael Palm Toft, a popular Dane axed during a team revamp in early May, zoomed clear in heat 14 to inspire the 4-2 (stand-in skipper Simon Lambert came in third in the final outing of his latest seven-ride shift) that left the city racers in an unassailable position.

That was the second of two heat wins for Palm Toft during a run of six Panthers advantages in the final seven races as he showed the sort of form that wasn’t displayed often enough when he rode for the club full-time earlier in the campaign.

And he wasn’t the only guest to impress either last night. Lasse Bjerre, another Panthers old boy, looked super-quick as he zoomed to a paid 13-point return which featured just one defeat by an opponent.

Bjerre reeled off a hat-trick of heat wins before following in number one Craig Cook (who dropped his only point in the opener) for a 5-1 finish that ensured Glasgow did not leave in possession of a consolation point.

In the process it confirmed Panthers’ return to the top of the standings after being knocked off that perch only 24 hours earlier.

“It was good to come back and help out,” said Palm Toft. “The club have definitely sorted the track out because it was lovely to ride.

“I had some bike problems again early on, which always seem to happen to me at Peterborough, but I got there in the end to win two races.

“This just proves that a rider should never shut a door on a club even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with what they have done.

“We all know that speedway is a numbers game at the end of the day and I’ll happily help Peterborough out again if they need me. They have my number.”

It was another memorable meeting at the finest track in the country which now serves as home to what could well become the best team in the second tier of the sport.

Panthers could do with kicking the habit of making life hard for themselves by having to come from behind, though.

They trailed by six points after five races due to guest Palm Toft and the returning Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen, back from a month out with concussion, twice being on the receiving end of 5-1s.

But they responded well to wipe out those arrears in the space of two races as a Cook-led 4-2 was followed by a fine ride from debutant Zdenek Holub as he starred in a 5-1 in a re-run heat seven. The Czech capture blasted down the inside of both Glasgow riders to follow in Bjerre for a 5-1.

Lambert then won a shared eighth heat and that proved to be the last deadlock of the night as Panthers upped the ante to power to victory.

A hat-trick of 4-2s put them six points clear and featured some fine action.

Palm Toft produced a slick move to pass Aaron Summers and hit the front in heat 9 before the 10th contest provided two terrific scraps in one.

Cook got the better of Worrall to take the flag while Lambert completed a race-long pursuit of Fernando Garcia before passing the visiting reserve on the final lap.

Those two riders exchanged barges and views after the race with Lambert appearing to be unhappy with the Argentinian visitor’s riding style.

Moments later Lambert wasn’t best pleased with his machinery either. A bike problem at the start saw him go into the tapes after he had been sent out for heat 12 in place of the struggling Busk Jakobsen.

He was left with no option other than to race off a 15-metre handicap and he came agonisingly close to making up that deficit and pinching second place from Garcia as Glasgow bagged a 5-1 that slashed their arrears to just two points.

It could have been a painful twist, but the speed and class of Panthers ensured that wasn’t the case.

Cook and Bjerre emerged from a thrilling heat 13 in possession of a 4-2 before the same outcome, courtesy of Palm Toft and Lambert, sealed victory in the penultimate race.

And their return to the Premier League summit was assured when Cook and Bjerre’s big finish ensured Glasgow left empty-handed.

Panthers are now a point clear of the Tigers, Somerset and Sheffield although Glasgow can return to top spot when facing Berwick tomorrow (June 12).

Panthers are back in action themselves on Tuesday (June 14) when they entertain Workington at Alwalton (7.30pm).

SCORES

PANTHERS: Craig Cook 14, Lasse Bjerre (guest) 12+1, Simon Lambert 11, Michael Palm Toft (guest) 8+1, Zdenek Holub 3+1, Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen 2, Rider replacement for Tom Perry.

GLASGOW: Richie Worrall 10+1, Kyle Howarth 10+1, Danny Ayres 7, Aaron Summers 5+1, Richard Lawson 4+1, Fernando Garcia 4+1, Rider replacement for Nike Lunna.