Peterborough Panthers wasted the chance to go back to the top of the Premier League when slumping to defeat against a team climbing off the bottom last night (July 12).
The title-chasing city side went down 46-44 to struggling Scunthorpe at the East of England Showground as a former rider predictably returned to haunt them.
Michael Palm Toft, a man sacked by Panthers earlier in the season and still wearing their racesuit, piled up the points to inspire the visitors.
The Dane was a somewhat unfortunate casualty of the speedway numbers game when being one of two riders to lose their jobs as Panthers promoter Ged Rathbone ruthlessly reshuffled his pack back in May to accommodate top British star Craig Cook.
It didn’t look the greatest decision last night as Palm Toft roared to paid 16 points, winning four of his seven races during a hectic shift at reserve.
It was a bigger score than he ever managed at Alwalton during a season-and-a-quarter in Panthers colours although he never had the chance to ride at reserve for the city club. Had he done so, one suspects tallies like the 15+1 racked up last night would have been a frequent occurrence.
Palm Toft’s exploits ensured Scunthorpe went into the final race of a meeting they led almost throughout in possession of a four-point cushion, meaning Panthers duo Ulrich Ostergaard and Craig Cook had to snatch a 5-1 to salvage a draw.
And they very nearly did it as Ostergaard hit the front and repelled rival skipper Josh Auty, but number one Cook couldn’t muster enough speed in a race-long charge around the fence to snatch second spot.
He had to settle for third and a 4-2 as Panthers were left to reflect on a third home defeat of the campaign. Title-winning form it most certainly is not.
Team manager Jason Attwood admitted: “We were well aware of the dangers posed by Scunthorpe as they are coming into form at a time when we are struggling with injuries.
“We also knew exactly what Michael was capable of doing in a reserve position at the Showground. He was always likely to have seven rides and he certainly made the most of them.
“We’ve often had the luxury of a reserve capable of getting double-figures. It is something that can win a meeting as we saw with Scunthorpe.
“For us it was a battle from start to finish and we could never get in control of the meeting on a track that wasn’t ideal.
“It’s obviously disappointing to be beaten at home, and it is something we need to put right.”
Panthers missed a golden chance to hit the front in a re-run opening race last night.
Scorpions number one Ryan Douglas was excluded for wildly bringing down Cook in the initial staging, but his partner Carl Wilkinson completed a tapes-to-flag solo mission in the re-run.
Wilkinson took the chequered flag again moments later in heat three, this time leading home partner Lewis Kerr for a 5-1 as Panthers found themselves six points adrift.
They battled back onto level terms as Ostergaard and Cook inspired 4-2s in heats four and six respectively before a fortunate 5-1 in the seventh contest wiped out their arrears.
Kerr retired from second spot on the third lap, leaving Panthers debutant Ashley Morris clear to follow in his captain. That was a second successive second place for Morris as he performed solidly in just his second-ever meeting at Alwalton.
He certainly did enough to suggest he can score points although probably not the amounts managed by injury victim Simon Lambert when he was operating at reserve.
But Panthers weren’t level for long. They fell behind again as Palm Toft took his second win of the night in heat eight to mastermind a 4-2 for the visitors and the deficit quickly returned to six points as the struggling middle order combination of Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen and Tom Perry were on the receiving end of a 5-1 in the ninth instalment.
An excellent exhibition of team riding from Cook, who watched the back of Emil Grondal, earned an immediate 5-1 reply from Panthers, but a costly slip from Ostergaard was punished in heat 11.
He led from three-and-three-quarter laps only to run too wide leaving the final bend, allowing Douglas to dart past and snatched a 4-2 for the visitors.
That proved to be their final gain, but three shared races followed to preserve their four-point advantage with Palm Toft taking the chequered flag in two of the team (heats 12 and 14).
Cook did the honours in the other – heat 13 – as partner Ostergaard was stuck at the rear and frustrated by an Auty roadblock, and the same pairing were unable to salvage a draw in a terrific finale as Panthers came up short.
It is something they cannot afford to allow to happen again when back on home shale on Friday night to face Berwick (7.30pm).
PANTHERS: Craig Cook 11+1, Ulrich Ostergaard 11, Emil Grondal 7+1, Ashley Morris 5+2, Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen 5, Tom Perry 3, Tom Stokes 2+1.
SCUNTHORPE: Michael Palm Toft 15+1, Josh Auty 10+1, Carl Wilkinson 9, Ryan Douglas 8, Lewis Kerr 2+1, Josh Bailey 2, Rider replacement for Alex Davies.