Peterborough Panthers only had themselves to blame when seeing their mini-revival come to an abrupt halt yesterday (June 18).
That was the damning verdict of team chief Carl Johnson after his side slipped to a 48-45 home reverse at the hands of Sheffield in an SGB Championship thriller at the East of England Arena.
Panthers were left counting the cost of a shocking start as they allowed the visitors to claim advantages in four of the opening five races.
Johnson’s men responded with a stirring fightback to hit the front with two races to go, but they soon saw their hopes of a memorable success dashed by back-to-back Sheffield 4-2s.
“We can’t give away teams four advantages in the first five heats and expect to get a result,” said Johnson.
“We were outgated in those early heats and also outmuscled in the first turn. The riders know I’m not happy about that – it’s a point I make on the track-walk ahead of every meeting.
“We’ve got to toughen up at times. It’s a ‘them or us’ situation in the early part of a speedway race and Sheffield had the edge far too many times.
“In all fairness, we dug deep and battled back well, but we couldn’t finish it off in the last two races.”
A hat-trick of 4-2s and 5-1 early on helped Sheffield storm into a 10-point lead, but Panthers responded well after being forced to turn to a tactical ride.
Chris Harris’ double-points triumph in the sixth race earned a 7-2 which halved the hosts’ arrears.
Sheffield, bossed by popular former Panthers rider Simon Stead, edged further clear thanks to another gain in heat eight before a run of four 4-2s in the space of five races allowed Panthers to hit the front for the first time.
But, after turning a double-figure deficit into a single-point advantage, their bid to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat was scuppered when Sheffield asserted again late on.
Captain Ulrich Ostergaard – one of four Panthers riders to score below their average - couldn’t prevent Josh Bates taking victory in the penultimate contest as the Tigers took a one-point lead into the last-heat decider.
And it proved to be an unhappy climax for Panthers as man-of-the-moment Jack Holder saw his hot streak ended by Josh Grajczonek in the finale.
Holder reeled off victories in his first four outings – including two against Grajczonek - to follow up a Friday-night maximum, but he was beaten from the gate and unable to reel in his fellow Aussie in the closing battle.
Partner Harris finished the meeting as he started it – with a blank. He was pipped to third in the final race by Bates.
“Jack won heat 13 with a good start from gate four and a blast round the outside – and he was confident he could do the same again in the final race,” added Johnson.
“We left the gate positions up to the two boys, but unfortunately Josh got our quickest and was able to cut off Jack’s run in the first corner.
“It was disappointing to be pipped like that after working hard to claw ourselves back into the meeting, but the damage was done in those first few races.”
Panthers have a quick opportunity to claim revenge when travelling to Sheffield for a return clash on Thursday (May 22). Home fixtures - against bottom side Berwick (May 23) and title-chasers Glasgow (May 25) – follow in the coming days.
PANTHERS: Jack Holder 14, Chris Harris 10, Paul Starke 7, Ulrich Ostergaard 5, Bradley Wilson-Dean 5, Richard Hall 3, Tom Bacon 1.
SHEFFIELD: Josh Grajczonek 13, Josh Bates 10+1, Lasse Bjerre 7+2, James Shanes 6+1, Kyle Howarth 6, Todd Kurtz 3, Rob Branford 3.
1 - Grajczonek (60.2), Wilson-Dean, Kurtz, Harris. 2-4, 2-4.
2 – Branford (60.4), Hall, Shanes, Bacon. 2-4, 4-8.
3 - Bjerre (60.1), Bates, Starke, Ostergaard. 1-5, 5-13.
4- Holder (59.6), Howarth, Shanes, Bacon. 3-3, 8-16.
5 - Grajczonek (60.8), Ostergaard, Kurtz, Starke. 2-4, 10-20.
6 - Harris (t/r, 61.2), Howarth, Wilson-Dean, Branford. 7-2 17-22.
7 - Holder (60.1), Bates, Bjerre, Bacon. 3-3, 20-25.
8 - Shanes (62.2), Wilson-Dean, Kurtz, Hall. 2-4, 22-29.
9 - Starke (61.8), Howarth, Ostergaard, Branford. 4-2, 26-31.
10 - Harris (62.1), Bates, Bjerre, Wilson-Dean. 3-3, 29-34.
11 - Holder (62.2), Grajczonek, Hall, Kurtz. 4-2, 33-36.
12 - Starke (62.4), Bjerre, Bacon, Branford. 4-2, 37-38.
13 - Holder (61.2), Grajczonek, Harris, Howarth. 4-2, 41-40.
14 - Bates (62.0), Ostergaard, Shanes, Hall. 2-4, 43-44.
15 - Grajczonek (61.6), Holder, Bates, Harris. 2-4, 45-48.