It never rains for Peterborough Panthers . . . but it most definitely pours.
The city club’s injury crisis worsened last night (July 15) when they lost two more riders and a third successive SGB Premiership home meeting.
Belle Vue gratefully took advantage of Panthers’ plight to triumph 50-40 in a televised clash at the East of England Arena which was marred by two dreadful spills early on.
Reserve Josh Bates was rushed to Peterborough City Hospital after being knocked unconscious when slamming into the back-straight fence at high-speed in heat two.
And star-of-the-season Charles Wright soon followed him there after suffering a dislocated shoulder and chest injury in a heat three crash that also forced Belle Vue talent Dan Bewley out of the contest.
Panthers then battled bravely in difficult circumstances with reserve guest Ricky Wells, stand-in skipper Scott Nicholls and short-term signing Ty Proctor all recording double-figures scores. The latter rider also equalled the 57.3 seconds track record in the opening race.
Beating the Aces, who returned to the top of the table with victory at Alwalton, with a full-strength team would have been a tall order. A fifth defeat at the hands of the Manchester side in 2019 was almost a sporting certainty following the early incidents.
Former Panthers star Kenneth Bjerre inspired the visitors with a flawless 15-point maximum. How the city club must regret allowing him to slip through the net during the winter.
“It’s a case of 2018 repeating itself all over again,” said frustrated Panthers team boss Carl Johnson.
“We saw injuries wreck our chances of league and cup success last season and they now could cost us a place in the play-offs this year.
“To lose Josh and Charles so early in the meeting put us on the back-foot straight away and it took us a few races to get those crashes out of our minds.
“Josh is the bigger concern after a really heavy fall. He was completely out of it for a while and was taken straight to hospital. We’ve all got our fingers crossed for him.
“Charles managed to get himself to hospital under his own steam. He dislocated his shoulder which the medics put back in and also banged his chest which left him coughing up blood, but they’ve checked him over and don’t think it’s anything to worry about.
“We battled as hard as we could in the circumstances but we have to hold our hands up and admit we were beaten by a better team again.
“To be honest we’re thinking more about the riders than the result tonight.”
Proctor’s rapid ride inspired a 4-2 for Panthers in the opener, but that was cancelled out by Belle Vue in the re-run of the second heat.
Proctor, who was feeling unwell himself, then stepped in for the stricken Wright in the re-staging of the third contest and led in Nicholls for a 5-1, but a four-point lead became a deficit of the same size following back-to-back maximums from the visitors in the fifth and sixth races.
Proctor’s third triumph of the night helped to earn a 4-2 in heat eight to halve the arrears, but the Aces soon hit back with a 5-1 as Bjerre and Dimitri Berge saw off Nicholls, who was the sole Panthers representative in heat nine. He had also ridden alone in the fifth contest too with the city side lacking manpower.
A further 5-1 from Bjerre and Max Fricke sealed victory for Belle Vue in heat 13 as they eased 10 points clear, but Wells and Nicholls responded brilliantly for Panthers in the penultimate heat.
However, it was maximum man Bjerre and Fricke who had the final say with another full-house over Nicholls and Proctor in the finale to earn all four league points for the visitors.
Panthers won’t race at home again until September with meetings against Belle Vue, Swindon and Wolverhampton to be arranged.
They now face seven consecutive away fixtures – starting at Wolverhampton on Monday (July 22) – with a rapid upturn and a major rebuild required.
PANTHERS: Ricky Wells (guest) 12, Scott Nicholls 10+2, Ty Proctor 10, Rohan Tungate 6+2, Erik Riss (guest) 2+1, Charles Wright 0 (withdrawn), Josh Bates 0 (withdrawn).
BELLE VUE: Kenneth Bjerre 15, Max Fricke 9+3, Dimitri Berge 9+3, Jaimon Lidsey 6+1, Steve Worrall 6, Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen (guest) 3, Dan Bewley 0.