Peterborough Panthers suffered a losing start to their Premier League Cup campaign today (March 22).
The city side were pipped 47-43 by the Somerset Rebels after a thrilling final-heat decider at the East of England Showground.
Teen talent Rob Lambert and skipper Ulrich Ostergaard arrived at the tapes for heat 15 in the knowledge they needed a 5-1 to complete a stirring fightback and snatch victory.
And for two laps all appeared to be going to plan until Somerset skipper Josh Grajczonek – the star individual performer on the day – had other ideas.
First the Aussie collared Ostergaard early on lap three and then zoomed round the outside of Lambert leaving the fourth bend to hit the front and earn the 3-3 that secured an impressive away success for the Rebels.
“It is definitely not the start we were planning on making,” admitted Panthers team boss Carl Johnson.
“We had a few problems and the track conditions probably didn’t help our guys.
“It tends to dry out quickly on a Sunday afternoon, but in all fairness it did provide some great racing.
“We have to make sure we pick ourselves up from this. Everyone is hugely disappointed and so they should be, but I’m certain we will bounce back.”
Panthers had only ever led briefly during a difficult afternoon in which they were often second-best away from the tapes.
An exclusion for Olly Allen handed Somerset a 5-1 in the opener and signalled the start of a frustrating afternoon for the home number one who later retired from heat 10 with ignition trouble.
But two 4-2s in the space of three races allowed Panthers to level with youngster Lambert excelling in a shared race in between.
The second of those 4-2s arrived in a re-run of the fourth heat after Rebels reserve Benji Compton had been taken to hospital complaining of neck and shoulder pain after hitting the deck in the initial staging.
Panthers then hit the front as debutant Michael Palm Toft producing a stunning last-lap blast to roar from fourth to second and follow in Allen for a 5-1 in heat six.
But the pendulum swung back the way of the visitors thanks to a purple patch which featured back-to-back 5-1s and a 4-2 to carry them eight points clear after 12 races.
But Panthers refused to roll over without a fight. Ostergaard kept Grajczonek at bay as they claimed a 4-2 in heat 13 before Lewis Blackbird picked himself up off the deck to take the flag in another advantage in the penultimate race.
But the excellent Grajczonek ensured their late rally didn’t come complete with a fairytale finish as Panthers suffered defeat in their first competitive fixture for the second successive season.
They return to action on Friday (March 27) when they entertain Rye House at the East of England Showground (7.30pm).
PETERBOROUGH READYPOWER PANTHERS: Ulrich Ostergaard 10+1, Robert Lambert 10, Lewis Blackbird 7+1, Michael Palm Toft 5+1, Ollie Greenwood 5+1, Olly Allen 4, Simon Lambert 2.
SOMERSET REBELS: Josh Grajczonek 13+1, Brady Kurtz 11, Charles Wright 8+1, Leigh Lanham 5+2, Paul Starke 5+1, Richie Worrall 5, Benji Compton 0 (withdrawn).
1 – Wright (awarded), Grajczonek, Palm Toft, Allen (exc). 1-5, 1-5.
2 - Greenwood (62.2), Starke, S. Lambert, Compton (ret). 4-2, 5-7.
3 - re-run R. Lambert (61.7), Kurtz, Lanham, Blackbird. 3-3, 8-10.
4 - re-run Ostergaard (61.9), Worrall, S. Lambert, Compton (fell/exc). 4-2, 12-12.
5 - Grajczonek (61.3), R. Lambert, Blackbird, Wright. 3-3, 15-15.
6 – re-run Allen (62.0), Palm Toft, Worrall, Starke. 5-1, 20-16.
7 - Kurtz (60.8), Ostergaard, Greenwood, Lanham (fell/rem). 3-3, 23-19.
8 - Wright (62.1), Starke, Palm Toft, S. Lambert. 1-5, 24-24.
9 - Blackbird (61.9), Worrall, R. Lambert, Starke. 4-2, 28-26.
10 - Kurtz (62.2), Lanham, Palm Toft, Allen (ret). 1-5, 29-31.
11 - Grajczonek (62.4), Wright, Ostergaard, Greenwood. 1-5, 30-36.
12 - Kurtz (62.5), R. Lambert, Starke, S. Lambert. 2-4, 32-40.
13 - Ostergaard (62.8), Grajczonek, Allen, Worrall. 4-2, 36-42.
14 - re-run Blackbird (62.9), Lanham, Greenwood, Starke. 4-2, 40-44.
15 - Grajczonek (63.6), R. Lambert, Ostergaard, Kurtz. 3-3, 43-47.