MATCH REPORT: Panthers win a thrill-a-minute dead rubber
It appears the message that this meeting was a dead rubber didn't get through to the riders of Peterborough Panthers and Ipswich yesterday (May 22).
What was essentially a case of dotting Is and crossing Ts in the Premier League Cup turned out to be one of the most thrilling meetings seen for some time at the East of England Showground.
The city team and their East Anglian rivals served up a treat in the final Midland Group fixture in a competition in which neither could advance to the latter stages.
The new-look, yet patched-up, Panthers delivered a dismal start to slide into a double-figure deficit after being on the receiving end of 5-1s in three of the opening five races.
But they quickly wiped out their arrears to hit the front and then pounced on the visitors’ mis-fortune to snatch a dramatic success in a re-run finale after unbeaten Witches skipper Danny King had crashed out.
High-profile signing Craig Cook experienced a debut hitch when retiring from the first of those early Witches gains while captain Ulrich Ostergaard crashed heavily out of the second, but was thankfully able to walk away and play a full part in the meeting.
Cook did later show his class with 11 valuable points, a haul which included victory in the last heat, but the man described as the ‘ultimate’ rider at Premier League level by his new promoter, Ged Rathbone, was overshadowed by stunning performances from two of his team-mates.
Super guest Kenneth Hansen racked up a mighty 16+3 haul, including a successful tactical ride as he starred for the second successive Panthers meeting, while reserve ace Simon Lambert amassed 14+2 from a terrific seven-ride shift.
Those two riders were largely responsible for dragging Panthers back into a meeting that many would have feared was beyond them at one-third distance.
Cook began the charge as his first success as a Panthers rider in heat six inspired a 4-2 with Lambert in third. Team boss Jason Attwood then deployed Hansen for double-points in the next race and he made no mistake to roar from tapes-to-flag with Lambert in tow for an 8-1.
A rider replacement outing and a reserve change led to the same duo being sent back out for heat eight moments later – and they excelled again with Lambert leading home Hansen for a 5-1 which completed a rapid turnaround and put Panthers a point up.
A ding-dong duel then ensured with the teams trading 4-2s and a single-point advantage over the next three races. Nico Covatti took the flag as Ipswich edged back in front only for Cook to reply before King got the better of Hansen in a clash of two unbeaten riders.
That left the Witches with the narrowest of advantages – a position they continued to hold through a series of shared races to set up a last-heat decider.
And when King hit the deck in the initial staging to earn an exclusion, Panthers suddenly became hot favourites to complete a comeback success.
A sudden downpour added an unexpected twist to the plot, but Cook and Hansen were not about to be fazed as they completed the smoothest of 5-1s to secure victory on a day when those two riders and fellow high-scorer Lambert were responsible for more than 40 of their team’s points.
Ostergaard struggled following his early spill while Emil Grondal looked short of speed and confidence, and new recruit Tom Stokes failed to score. The local lad was always on the pace though and twice lost out on third places when being passed in heats two and four.
Team chief Attwood admitted: “Anyone who filled in a programme can see where things went well, and where they didn’t.
“Simon had an absolute belter despite being worked very hard and Kenneth wasn’t bad as a guest again, but we didn’t really have enough of the boys scoring well.
“The main thing is we came back from a disappointing start to snatch a win.
“I feared it might not be our day when our captain crashed out of a 5-1 in heat 3 – especially as Ipswich got one of their own in a re-run.
“But we managed to get ourselves together, we made use of the tactical ride to get back into the meeting and were then able to nick it right at the end.
“There is obviously no such thing as a meaningless meeting in speedway because supporters want to see their team win, but it was a good one for Craig and Tom to get a few laps under their belts.
“Craig reeled off three wins to show why he has been brought in while Tom was well on the pace in his races and probably unlucky not to finish up with a point or two.”
Panthers are out of action until Bank Holiday Monday (May 30) when they face a hectic double-shift in the Premier League.
They go to Scunthorpe in the afternoon (without Cook, who is riding for Elite League club Belle Vue) before hosting Ipswich again in the evening.
PANTHERS: Kenneth Hansen 16+3, Simon Lambert 14+2, Craig Cook 11, Ulrich Ostergaard 5, Emil Grondal 2, Tom Stokes 0, Rider replacement for Tom Perry.
IPSWICH: Danny King 11+1, Nico Covatti 8, Lewis Kerr 7+1, Morten Risager 7, James Sarjeant 6+1, Ollie Greenwood 3+3, Paco Castagna 3.