SPEEDWAY: Panthers well beaten in play-off semi-final

Michael Palm Toft top-scored for Panthers.
Michael Palm Toft top-scored for Panthers.
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Nine years to the day of the greatest triumph in Peterborough Panthers history, the class of 2015 were unable to conjure another never-to-be-forgotten performance.

The city racers saw their bid for Premier League title glory come to an end as they suffered a play-off semi-final second leg drubbing at reigning champions Edinburgh last night (October 9).

There was no storyline to rival that Hans Andersen-inspired fairytale of 2006 as Elite League Grand Final glory was snatched from the jaws of defeat against Reading, no nerveless Ryan Sullivan-esque late stand and no hero punching above his weight at reserve a la Richard Hall.

Unfortunately, for Panthers, there was a 58-32 defeat on the night at the hands of the mighty Monarchs who marched into the Grand Final with a 102-78 aggregate verdict.

Panthers had arrived in Scotland full of optimism after an August success at the same Armadale venue, but lightning did not strike twice.

They went out with a whimper as they could muster only two race wins and two heat advantages and joint team boss Carl Johnson pulled no punches in his assessment of his riders’ display.

“The scoreline says it all,” admitted Johnson. “It was a bad night to put in a bad performance – probably one of our worst as a team all season.

“We wanted to go down with all guns blazing – if indeed we did go down - but we were well beaten.

“I think a couple of the guys were already beaten before they arrived and others didn’t perform as they can.

“Our season came down to 15 heats of speedway but we weren’t good enough and we didn’t want it as much as Edinburgh did.

“I’m still proud of what we have achieved this season. It’s been a good year despite having countless problems, but we came up just short in the end.”

Panthers saw their two-point aggregate advantage wiped out in the opening race and were behind on the overall scoreline after being on the receiving end of a third heat 5-1 from the hosts’ German duo of Kevin Wolbert and Erik Riss.

The Monarchs’ progress was briefly checked when guest number one Rohan Tungate inspired a 4-2 in heat five with Michael Palm Toft back in third.

That was by far the highlight for Tungate as the rider borrowed from Ipswich for both legs of the semi-final showdown saw his night book-ended by a retirement and a tumble.

Tungate could only manage 10 points across the whole tie. Panthers could have done with that in each meeting in all truth.

They had been cast adrift by the time the Palm Toft spearheaded their other 4-2 gain in heat 11 when Tungate occupied third spot, and that merely served to delay the inevitable.

Their fate was eventually confirmed moments later when a Wolbert-led 4-2 in the next race put the Monarchs in an unassailable position.

Palm Toft top-scored with nine points while Ben Barker – who faced a near 1100 mile round trip from his Truro base – reeled off a string of second places before retiring from the finale.

But the remainder of the Panthers team were well below par. Tungate and stand-in captain Simon Lambert contributed only four points apiece while World Under 21 Championship silver medallist Anders Thomsen chose the wrong night to turn in his first poor performance in Panthers colours to end on three.

And they lacked firepower at reserve where Emil Grondal failed to become the trump card club bosses had predicted he would be and Rafal Konopka saw his struggles continue as he twice hit the deck and failed to add to a second place in the second race.

But, while it has ultimately ended in disappointment, there is much for Panthers to be happy about at the conclusion of a 2015 journey riddled with problems.

The fact that Lambert was the sole survivor of their initial team highlights the extent of their injury trouble and even he sat out more than a month with a broken shoulder blade before returning with the problem far from fully healed.

Skipper Ulrich Ostergaard, original number one Olly Allen and Adam Roynon were all lost to injuries while Lewis Blackbird eventually called time on his speedway career in August. Teenage whizzkid Robert Lambert and reserve Ollie Greenwood were also axed along the way.

But Ged Rathbone’s promotion has provided a breath of fresh air and put the buzz back into the sport in this city.

For the first time in years the club can point to increased attendances and improved interaction with their supporters.

The manner of Panthers’ exit will undoubtedly hurt, but you sense this is just the beginning for them.

SCORES

EDINBURGH: Craig Cook 15 (max), Kevin Wolbert 12+2, Sam Masters 9, Justin Sedgmen 7+1, Erik Riss 7, Max Clegg 6+1, Rob Branford 2.

PANTHERS: Michael Palm Toft 9, Ben Barker 8, Rohan Tungate (guest) 4, Simon Lambert 4, Anders Thomsen 3, Emil Grondal 2+1, Rafal Konopka 2.