Peterborough Panthers team boss Carl Johnson blasted the refereeing decision that he reckons cost his side any chance of victory at Sheffield last night (April 20).
The city racers slipped to a 50-40 defeat in the SGB Championship clash, but Johnson feels the outcome hinged on a key moment in the penultimate race.
High-scoring Panthers man Bradley Wilson-Dean hit the deck in the final ride of his last meeting at reserve before climbing into the main body of the team when new averages are released for next month.
The New Zealand champion was promptly excluded by referee Tony Steele, but Johnson is adamant the crucial call was incorrect. He insisted Wilson-Dean was clattered by home rider Todd Kurtz.
Panthers were six points down at the time and could potentially have had a re-run against just a Sheffield reserve – instead it was their man Paul Starke left on a solo mission.
Starke took the flag in the second staging to complete a terrific 12-point performance on his return from a shoulder injury, but the 3-3 outcome clinched victory for Sheffield.
And they then denied Panthers a consolation point by taking a 5-1 in a finale that was also laced with controversy.
Referee Steele ruled that Lasse Bjerre, racing for his regular club last night after guesting for Panthers in their Easter Monday triumph against Ipswich, took second place behind team-mate Kyle Howarth.
But a frustrated Johnson is adamant that video evidence, seen after the meeting, proved that was not the case.
The Panthers team chief said: “Bradley was in front of Todd, who came steaming down the back straight and took him down going into the third bend.
“We could all see what was going to happen. Todd needed to stop somehow and used Bradley to do it.
“Bradley is not going to jump off his bike for no reason. He had tyre-marks on his kevlars and couldn’t believe he was excluded.
“It was a decision that made a big difference. We could potentially have got a 5-1 in a re-run against one Sheffield rider and really put them under pressure going into the last heat.
“Instead we only had one man ourselves and even though he won the race it sealed the win for Sheffield.
“And for Jack to then be placed third when he clearly came second in the last heat added a bit more salt into the wounds.
“We were shown a video that proved he beat Lasse by half-a-wheel. While it didn’t change the overall result in this instance, decisions like that have to be right - it cost our rider money.”
The final 10-point margin was the biggest gap between the two sides throughout an exciting clash.
Starke led the way for Panthers with a classy dozen which included two race wins, but Johnson chose not to select him in heat 15 for fear of aggravating the shoulder problem sustained in a spill at Ipswich last Saturday.
Holder, Wilson-Dean and skipper Ulrich Ostergaard, who brought up the rear in the finale, all contributed nine points, but the poor form of Simon Lambert continued.
He managed just one third place from four rides at an Owlerton Stadium track he used to ride regularly. Reserve Tom Bacon failed to score for the second successive meeting.
Johnson added: “That sort of score from a rider of Simon’s experience is not good enough.
“We’re obviously concerned about his form after only one good performance so far this season.
“His average has dropped a lot and we’ve got to try to get to the bottom of why that is.
“It’s tough for Tom stepping up to this level for the first time. While we hoped he would be among the points, he’s not far away from doing the job we need him to do.
“The team has been built to have strength throughout and for that to work we need everyone to contribute solidly.”
Panthers, who have won three and lost two of their league meetings so far, are now out of action until May 7 when they entertain Edinburgh at the East of England Showground.
SHEFFIELD: Lasse Bjerre 12+1, Kyle Howarth 12, Josh Grajczonek 8+1, Todd Kurtz 6, Rob Branford 5+2, Josh Bates 5, Jack Parkinson-Blackburn 2+2
PANTHERS: Paul Starke 12, Jack Holder 9+2, Bradley Wilson-Dean 9+1, Ulrich Ostergaard 9, Simon Lambert 1+1, Tom Bacon 0, Rider replacement for Kenneth Hansen.