Peterborough Panthers’ hopes of SGB Championship KO Cup success were seriously dented yesterday (October 22) - despite winning the first leg of the final!
The city team triumphed 47-43 against Ipswich at the East of England Arena, but they were in no mood to celebrate a narrow success after being stung by a fine revival from the depleted visitors.
Panthers breezed into a 14-point advantage after two-thirds of the contest against a Witches side who had seen their second-best rider, Rory Schlein, taken to hospital with an ankle injury following a spectacular crash in heat four.
But rather than turn the screw and build up a trophy-winning lead, Panthers let their East Anglian rivals off the hook.
They conceded two 5-1s and a 4-2 in the space of four races as the complexion of the tie changed hugely. That point was highlighted by some exuberant celebrations from Ipswich number one Danny King following his third successive victory in heat 15.
A four-point defeat no doubt felt like a victory to his team who stage the second leg at Foxhall this Thursday (October 26). A four-point win was treated more like a defeat by Panthers, who have already lost by 11 and 28 points on Suffolk shale already this season.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” insisted Panthers team boss Carl Johnson. “But our boys all know we should have done better.
“We were in a position to put ourselves in full control of the final, but we allowed Ipswich to come back at us.
“They deserve a lot of credit for doing that after losing an influential rider, but it is something we should not have allowed to happen.
“We’ve given ourselves a huge job to do at Ipswich now. If we don’t win the KO Cup, we’ll look back at the final few races of the first leg.”
Top-scoring guest Scott Nicholls won a shared opener before Panthers hit the front courtesy of a 5-1 from reserves Simon Lambert and guest Scott Campos in heat two. They were left with a simple task in a re-run as Ipswich man Nathan Greaves raced off a 15-metre handicap after seeing his partner, Connor Mountain, crash out of the initial staging.
Ipswich hit back instantly with a full house of their own from Cameron Heeps and Kyle Newman before they saw Schlein come to grief on the opening lap of heat four, although thankfully the rider and his out-of-control bike were both avoided by the riders in behind.
Panthers showed no mercy when the action resumed with a pair of 4-2s being followed by a 5-1 from Lambert and Nicholls in heat six.
More gains followed thanks to Paul Starke’s now customary back-to-back brilliance in heats eight and nine – two races in which he has excelled of late.
Starke produced a stunning ride to get the better of Heeps and earn a 4-2 in the first of them before teaming up with his captain, Ostergaard, for a 5-1 in the next contest.
Those exploits allowed Panthers to ease into a 14-point cushion with the prospect of the gap between the sides increasing further . . . but Ipswich had other ideas.
They hit back in heat 11 when young reserve Greaves battled back former GP rider Chris Harris during a dramatic final lap to snatch second place and follow in King for a 5-1.
The Witches’ fightback continued courtesy of a 4-2 in the next race as Heeps swept to the front and Mountain pounced to snatch third after Lambert had inadvertently been shoved wide by partner Starke.
Panthers looked set to stretch their advantage again as Nicholls and Harris made fine starts in heat 13 only for the race to be halted when Greaves crashed between the third and fourth bends on lap one.
The Ipswich reserve was excluded, but King made the most of his second chance and flew out of the start to triumph in a shared race – ending the paid maximum hopes of Nicholls in the process.
And the away side were celebrating again when Newman and Mountain claimed a 5-1 over Ostergaard in the penultimate contest before both Panthers riders - Nicholls and Harris - battled past Heeps to follow home King in a deadlocked finale.
Locally-based Ipswich team boss Ritchie Hawkins said: “To get the deficit down from 14 points to four is an amazing effort, but there is still a job to do on Thursday. “It is certainly not won and we cannot relax.”
Panthers’ team plans for the return leg are still up in the air due to the illnesses being suffered by number one Jack Holder and Bradley Wilson-Dean.
Johnson remained tight-lipped on suggestions that Holder has already departed for his native Australia.
PANTHERS: Scott Nicholls (guest) 12+1, Chris Harris 9+2, Paul Starke 9, Ulrich Ostergaard 7+1, Simon Lambert 7, Scott Campos (guest) 3+1, Rider replacement for Bradley Wilson-Dean.
IPSWICH: Danny King 13, Cameron Heeps 12, Kyle Newman 8+4, Connor Mountain 7+1, Nathan Greaves 3+1, Rory Schlein 0 (withdrawn), Rider replacement for Justin Sedgmen.
1 - Nicholls (61.5), King, Newman, Lambert. 3-3, 3-3.
2 - re-run Lambert (62.8), Campos, Greaves (15m), Mountain (fell/exc). 5-1, 8-4.
3 - Heeps (60.8), Newman, Ostergaard, Starke. 1-5, 9-9.
4 - re-run Harris (61.8), Mountain, Campos, Schlein (fell/exc). 4-2, 13-11.
5 - Ostergaard (60.6), King, Starke, Greaves. 4-2, 17-13.
6 - Lambert (61.6), Nicholls, Mountain, Greaves. 5-1, 22-14.
7 - Harris (60.7), Heeps, Newman, Campos. 3-3, 25-17.
8 - Starke (61.0), Heeps, Lambert, Mountain. 4-2, 29-19.
9 - Starke (61.9), Ostergaard, Mountain, Greaves. 5-1, 34-20.
10 - Nicholls (61.2), Heeps, Newman, Campos. 3-3, 37-23.
11 - King (61.2), Greaves, Harris, Lambert. 1-5, 38-28.
12 - Heeps (61.4), Starke, Mountain, Lambert. 2-4, 40-32.
13 - re-run King (61.6), Nicholls, Harris, Greaves (fell/exc). 3-3, 43-35.
14 - Newman (62.4), Mountain, Ostergaard, Lambert. 1-5, 44-40.
15 - King (61.9), Nicholls, Harris, Heeps. 3-3, 47-43.