Peterborough Panthers have put together a seriously under-rated team for the 2012 season according to one of the leading experts in speedway.
But Sky Sports presenter and commentator Nigel Pearson is not convinced that the city club have assembled a squad quite capable of reaching the Elite League play-offs.
However, Pearson does admit he was left surprised by the negative reaction from supporters towards the chosen Panthers line-up after it was announced back in November when club bosses were the first to lay their cards on the table for the 2012 campaign.
Pearson, who is an occasional colleague of new Panthers joint team boss Jan Staechmann on Sky Sports’ television coverage of the World Championship, said: “Strength in depth is certainly important and that is something Panthers boast.
“And having young talent Michael Jepsen Jensen down at reserve at the start of the season could be very good as I know how highly Jan rates him.
“I have to admit I don’t necessarily see them as a team capable of reaching the play-offs though, but I do feel their side took a lot of unnecessary stick when first announced in the winter.”
Pearson believes returning Grand Prix star Kenneth Bjerre faces a big year - both as Panthers number one on the track and captain off it.
He added: “A year away at King’s Lynn might well have done Kenneth good, but I really get the impression he feels at home at Peterborough.
“He will have to deliver in the big, high-pressure races and meetings though which is something he has failed to do at times in the past.
“But if he manages that he will be a good spearhead for the side.”
Pearson fancies another club with a big Peterborough influence to claim honours this season.
He is a big fan of the side put together by Coventry - a club now bossed by city businessman Mick Horton.
What do you think of Panthers’ chances this season?
An expert eye on the Elite League
Sky Sports presenter/commentator Nigel Pearson delivers his view on all 10 top-flight teams.
BELLE VUE ACES
Rory Schlein 8.43
Charlie Gjedde/Ulrich Ostergaard 6.88
Adam Shields 6.70
Patrick Hougaard 6.22
Travis McGowan 4.49
Claus Vissing/Josh Grajczonek 4.34
Linus Eklof 3.89
Team manager: Jim Lynch
Pearson’s view: It was always going to be difficult to build a team having lost Chris Harris back to Coventry, but I’m glad the Aces have invested in Rory Schlein. He is an under-rated rider in my view who has done a lot of growing up in recent years.
But you can’t help but worry about a lack of strength in depth and they have to be outsiders to take the top four.
Bjarne Pedersen 8.21
Seb Ulamek 7.11
Ben Barker/Magnus Karlsson 6.87
Danny King 6.41
Martin Smolinski 5.34
Josh Auty/Tyson Nelson 3.49
Tomasz Piszcz 3.49
Team manager: Graham Drury
Pearson’s view: Much will probably depend on the form of winter signings Ulamek and Smolinski - and they haven’t started well.
It might just be the case that they need a bit of time to settle back into British speedway but I do like the look of their side.
Pedersen is a sound top man, the Danny King and Ben Barker partnership is handy and Josh Auty can really perform at reserves, so I expect them to be knocking on the door of the play-offs.
Chris Harris 7.97
Edward Kennett 7.84
Scott Nicholls 7.75
Kenni Larsen 6.42
Leigh Lanham/Aaron Summers 4.52
Henning Bager 3.46
Adam Roynon/Jason Bunyan 3.00
Team manager: Colin Pratt/Blayne Scroggins
Pearson’s view: Some people feel the Bees are too top-heavy, but I don’t see that as a problem as Harris, Nicholls, Kennett and Larsen can score the bulk of their points.
They also have plenty of others who can chip in so that’s why they are my fancies for the title.
Joonas Kylmakorpi 7.61
Lewis Bridger 7.40
Simon Gustafsson 6.49
Lukas Dryml 6.03
Cameron Woodward 5.80
Denis Gizatullin 4.00
Timo Lahti 3.00
Team manager: Trevor Geer
Pearson’s view: There is only one change from the team that reached the Grand Final last season and continuity is a good thing in my book. The new arrival Gizatullin has proved he is a capable rider in the World Cup.
I’m sure they will be a force on their own shale at Arlington again and I expect to see them knocking on the door of the play-offs.
KING’S LYNN STARS
Niels Kristian Iversen 8.00
Mads Korneliussen 7.44
Daniel Nermark 6.17
Maciej Janowski 6.06
Kevin Wolbert 5.17
David Howe/Kozza Smith 4.99
Filip Sitera/Michael Palm Toft 3.09
Team manager: Rob Lyon
Pearson’s view: I’m not sure this was Lynn’s original gameplan as they desperately wanted to accommodate Nicki Pedersen but the unpredictably of the British fixture list meant that wasn’t possible.
It’s a good opportunity for Iversen at number one - as Peterborough fans know he can be a class act but needs to do it consistently - while moving to Lynn has been very good for Korneliussen.
Lynn have a great track and quality promoters so it would be a pleasant surprise if they make the play-offs, but I feel they will struggle to do it.
Peter Karlsson 8.12
Lee Richardson 8.06
Davey Watt 7.71
Stuart Robson/Kauko Nieminen 5.22
Robert Mear 4.71
Kim Nilsson 4.12
Justin Sedgmen/Richie Worrall 3.00
Team manager: Neil Vatcher
Pearson’s view: The Hammers have gone about their team-building in a very astute way.
Peter Karlsson is a great guy to have around and Lakeside is a track where he will excel. Title-winner Watt is another good signing and you always know what you are going to get from Richardson.
The class of the top three is not in doubt but the question is whether the likes of Mear can step up into the main body of the team.
Definitely see them as a top four team.
Kenneth Bjerre 9.06
Linus Sundstrom 6.90
Oliver Allen 6.31
Lasse Bjerre/Rene Bach 5.25
Jesper B. Monberg 5.02
Michael Jepsen Jensen 5.00
Richard Lawson/Kyle Newman 3.02
Team manager: Trevor Swales/Jan Staechmann
Pearson’s view: See above.
Chris Holder 9.30
Darcy Ward 8.94
Adrian Miedzinski 5.57
Dennis Andersson 5.14
Sam Masters/Ludvig Lindgren 4.51
Ricky Kling 4.09
Todd Kurtz 3.00
Team manager: Neil Middleditch
Pearson’s view: Powerful top two Holder and Ward are speedway box office - an absolute delight to watch.
I’m not sure about Miedzinski’s long-term commitment but Andersson had a fine first season in Britain and young Masters is a terrific prospect with a lovely style.
Kling can be an enigma (he’s the sort of rider who could score 12 one night and two the next) but being at reserve will be good for him.
Poole are sure to be there challenging again.
Troy Batchelor 8.24
Hans Andersen 8.15
Simon Stead 6.43
Nick Morris 5.30
Jason Doyle/Seb Alden 5.28
Peter Kildemand 4.16
Kenny Ingalls/Robin Aspegren 3.53
Team manager: Alun Rossiter
Pearson’s view: Swindon needed a revamp after finishing bottom last season - and that’s what they have had.
I was very surprised to see Batchelor left out of Peterborough’s plans after staying loyal to them the previous winter, but going back to Swindon should be good for him.
It might take Andersen a bit of time to really get into the groove and not having the captaincy should help Stead while I expected Kildemand to score well at reserve.
They have big plusses in a lot of departments and I’ll put them down for a top four spot.
Fredrik Lindgren 9.21
Tai Wofﬁnden 8.52
Nicolai Klindt 6.41
Ty Proctor 5.09
Pontus Aspegren 4.00
Lukasz Sowka 4.00
Ricky Wells/Thomas Jorgensen 3.75
Team manager: Peter Adams
Pearson’s view: You know exactly what you will get from main man Lindgren while Woffinden is showing signs of being right back to his best.
Klindt returns to his parent club a better rider but has to become more consistent if he is going to make it into a world-class rider.
There might be a few issues further down and a bit like their Midlands rivals Birmingham, I expect them to hover around the top four without necessarily being quite good enough to get in.