Peterborough Panthers dig deep after horror crash for Hans Andersen to keep their Grand Final hopes alive
Peterborough Panthers dug deeper than ever to maintain their Premiership title hopes in a thriller of a Grand Final first leg in Manchester on Monday.
Panthers held Belle Vue to a two-point lead (46-44) at the halfway stage meaning there is everything still to race for in the second leg at the East of England Arena on Thursday (October 14, 7.30pm).
Yet all odds appeared to be stacked against Panthers when club legend Hans Andersen crashed out of the meeting in an horrific Heat 3 incident – and with the Aces quickly racing into an eight-point lead, a damage limitation exercise was required.
In that respect, Panthers were remarkably successful with two 5-1s in Heats 12 and 13 stunning the home crowd as their remaining regular riders went above and beyond to keep their side in the title race on a night when it could easily have slipped away.
The sides traded 5-1s in the early stages with youngster Jordan Palin and Bjarne Pedersen taking a tremendous maximum in Heat 2 to cancel out an early deficit.
But in Heat 3 Andersen lifted as he battled with Steve Worrall going into lap two, and as he fought to get the front wheel down he made contact with team-mate Scott Nicholls on his inside.
Andersen was flung off his machine and crashed down the track, and it was incredible to see him walk away after treatment – although he was withdrawn from the meeting and suspected concussion means he is expected to miss the second leg.
With the Aces taking a 5-1 in the re-run and then adding another in Heat 5 when Charles Wright went from fourth to second, Panthers were 19-11 down and needing to find a response.
They checked the Belle Vue progress with a 3-3 in Heat 6 as Chris Harris re-passed Richie Worrall and in the process created a gap for Pedersen to follow him through.
And then Palin, who had been shepherded home by Harris in Heat 4, produced a great start in Heat 7 and was team-ridden by Nicholls for a big 5-1, the skipper closing off Worrall going into turn three.
The Aces responded with a pair of 4-2s, Worrall and Pedersen trading the lead in Heat 8 before the home man came out on top, and then in an epic Heat 9 with all four riders in contention Steve Worrall took his fourth win whilst a brilliant last-bend move by Harris on the outside saw him snatch second place from Wright.
Nicholls then achieved the feat of a win over Dan Bewley in Heat 10, but the Aces still moved into an ominous 10-point lead with a 4-2 in Heat 11 as Bewley, taking a rider-replacement ride, surged around Michael Palm Toft after initially challenging on the inside.
Trailing 38-28, Panthers were at the most crucial time of their season – and the next two races provided evidence yet again of how they should never be written off.
Pedersen made a fast start in Heat 12 with Nicholls joining him on the outside, only for the previously unbeaten Steve Worrall to come into play and pass Pedersen – but the Dane wasn’t to be denied and hit back brilliantly for a paid win.
If that was a good 5-1, Heat 13 was simply stunning as Palm Toft made the start with Harris this time using the outside to go past the Aces duo – and after having to mount a strong defence over Wright mid-race, Harris then had to deal with a late threat from Bewley as he made it home in second place.
All of a sudden it was 40-38 and Panthers were right back in the tie, and Nicholls reeled off his fourth successive win in a shared Heat 14 with Pedersen this time missing out.
And the final race was also a 3-3 with Bewley this time getting out in front – and with no way of catching him, Harris and Nicholls used all of their experience to ensure Steve Worrall was kept at the back.
So a tremendous first leg contest ended with just two points between the sides, but Panthers boss Rob Lyon now needs to assess the position with regards to injuries and guest riders ahead of Thursday’s return.
Lyon said: “I’m pretty shell-shocked really. We seem to be having those meetings on a regular basis at the moment!
“But again, what a performance after Hans was ruled out, and how well we just pulled together and put a performance back to Belle Vue and really took it to them.
“It gives us a good chance now going into the home leg, without a doubt. Now we need to sort out our position with guests and whatever else, and go from there with a title to win on Thursday.”
BELLE VUE 46: Dan Bewley 15, Steve Worrall 13, Charles Wright 7+2, Richie Worrall 6+2, Tom Brennan 4+1, Jye Etheridge 1, Brady Kurtz r/r.
PETERBOROUGH 44: Scott Nicholls 14+1, Chris Harris 10+1, Bjarne Pedersen 8+2, Michael Palm Toft 6, Jordan Palin 5+3, Lewis Kerr 1, Hans Andersen 0.