Peterborough Panthers saw their torrid 2012 season come to an agonising climax as they missed out on the Elite League KO Cup final by the skin of their teeth on Thursday night (25 October).
Guest number one Hans Andersen and World Under 21 title favourite Michael Jepsen Jensen were unable to deliver the required heat advantage when a gripping tie boiled down to a last-race decider at the East of the England Showground.
Instead it was the Poole pair of Krzysztof Kasprzak and guest Niels Kristian Iversen who stormed to a 5-1 to seal a 94-89 aggregate passage into a final against Coventry. Panthers had to settle for a 50-43 on the night, but the damage was done by a 51-39 defeat in the first leg in Dorset 24 hours earlier.
Two depleted sets of riders served up some cracking racing during an Alwalton meeting marred by a horror fourth-heat smash that saw world champion Chris Holder taken to hospital with a broken leg, knee ligament damage and a broken rib.
Photo GALLERY of action from the Showground, link on right
The visiting ace had no time to take avoiding action after Panthers guest Mads Korneliussen, who also withdrew from the remainder of the meeting with ankle and shoulder complaints, unexpectedly hit the deck just in front of him on the second bend of the opening lap.
Panthers made the best start as four advantages in the opening six races handed them the momentum and, coupled with the unfortunate exit of Holder, hopes were high of a charge into the final.
A match-race triumph for Kasprzak over Jepsen Jensen slowed the Panthers juggernaut before the same rider inspired the visitors’ first advantage of the night when winning heat eight. In fact the Pole was the main difference between the sides as he amassed a staggering 34 (paid 36) points over the two legs of this tie.
That 4-2 put Poole five points to the good on aggregate and they increased their cushion to seven points when Iversen and Sam Masters claimed a 4-2 over the Panthers reserve duo in heat 11.
But Panthers were not about to wave the white flag. Andersen claimed the scalp of Kasprzak as the hosts replied in kind in heat 12 before a penultimate heat maximum from captain-for-the-night Richard Lawson and reserve guest Rene Bach reduced the aggregate deficit to a single point.
The two Peterborough bottom-end men piled up 19 points between them with Lawson looking particularly impressive either side of a crunching heat nine tumble.
That 5-1 did, however, hand Poole the opportunity to use their second available match race, but Iversen’s challenge of Andersen came to nothing after a titanic four-lap tussle between the top Danish talents.
Andersen’s success ensured there was no change to the scoreline as only the team issuing the challenge can gain points from a match race, but his victory was still celebrated wildly by the Showground faithful.
But that was to be the end of the celebrations as Andersen couldn’t do the business in the crunch final heat moments later. He watched on from third place as Kasprzak and Iversen ensured the Pirates moved a step closer to plundering the KO Cup treasure.
Panthers team boss Jan Staechmann was left to reflect on another near-miss at the end of a campaign which also saw the city team miss out on the Elite League play-offs.
He admitted: “No-one could possibly fault the boys for their effort or performance last night.
“They gave the fans plenty of entertainment but unfortunately Poole were able to get one over on us at the end of the night.
“Obviously it is a shame to miss out on the final but I can only say a huge thank-you to the fans who have stuck with us through thick and thin.
“Their support is valued by me and I know it is appreciated by the riders as well, but I will not be sorry to see the back of this season.”
Few will argue with him.
Panthers: Hans Andersen 14, Richard Lawson 10+1, Michael Jepsen Jensen 10, Rene Bach 9+3, Norbert Kosciuch 7+3, Mads Korneliussen 0 (withdrawn), Rider replacement for Ryan Sullivan.
Poole: Krzysztof Kasprzak 18+1, Niels Kristian Iversen 14, Sam Masters 6, Kyle Howarth 5+2, Ricky Kling 0, Chris Holder 0 (withdrawn), Rider replacement for Piotr Pawlicki.