Peterborough Panthers were in no mood to celebrate a quick return to the top of the SGB Championship yesterday (August 5) – after being held to an East Anglian derby draw.
Not even the trademark late-meeting heroics of Michael Palm Toft were enough to earn the city side success as they battled out a 45-45 deadlock with Ipswich in their penultimate home meeting of the regular season.
It was a tight and tense tussle, staged on a far from ideal track surface and in front of a bumper East of England Arena attendance (one so large that the start of the meeting had to be delayed for 15 minutes), which always looked set to go down to the wire.
Panthers led by six points early on before finding themselves two points down with two races to go, but Palm Toft dug them out of a hole to some degree.
He inspired a 4-2 in the penultimate heat to level the scores overall before storming past Ipswich number one Rory Schlein to triumph in the finale, but the spoils were shared in the closing race as Scott Nicholls could make no impression at the back.
And while the league point gained carried Panthers back to the summit (they were knocked out of pole position by Lakeside on points difference 48 hours earlier) team boss Carl Johnson felt they missed a good opportunity to seal a play-off spot.
He did have some sympathy with his riders, though. Johnson said: “It’s disappointing to drop points at home for the second time this season – but Ipswich did deserve the draw in all fairness in another fantastic and close meeting.
“They provided more race-winners than us and the fact we hadn’t ridden as a team for three weeks was probably a factor in us not quite being at our best.
“The track was not how we wanted it to be either. It’s difficult for the track staff in heat like this, but I felt they needed to start getting water into it on Saturday rather than leaving it until the morning of the meeting.
“It suits one or two of the guys when it is really slick but others don’t like it that way, but that’s not an excuse as it was the same for both teams.
“I felt that a win against Ipswich would have made us certain of a play-off place, but the fact we only managed a draw means we’ve put ourselves under a bit of pressure.
“We’ve got four away meetings in a row now and we’ve still got work to do.”
Panthers started powerfully against Ipswich as skipper Simon Lambert inspired a 4-2 in a re-run opening heat before reserve pair Tom Bacon and Emil Grondal cruised to a 5-1 in the second contest.
But Ipswich hit back as Nico Covatti provided the visiting side’s first success in heat three by seeing off Palm Toft and Mark Riss’ third place ensured it came complete with a first advantage.
The Witches also provided the winner of a shared fourth heat as their guest Adam Ellis zoomed clear as Panthers’ stand-in Ben Barker moved from fourth to second. Barker was aboard Lambert’s bike after experiencing problems with his own machinery during a delay before the start of that race.
The visitors’ recovery was completed when Schlein led home partner Cameron Heeps for a 5-1 in heat five and Ipswich continued to provide the winners.
Ellis held off a Nicholls charge to take the flag in the sixth instalment before Covatti was a comfortable victor of heat seven – both of those races being shared as was the eighth contest in which the impressive Bacon claimed his second success of the meeting only for captain Lambert was surprisingly stuck at the rear.
The run of deadlocks came to an end when Palm Toft burst out of the tapes to triumph over Ellis in heat nine and Wilson-Dean’s third place secured a 4-2, but their lead lasted a matter of minutes as Ipswich replied in kind.
In fact visiting duo Riss and Covatti looked set to claim a 5-1 for much of heat 10 until Nicholls forced his way into second place on the final lap.
Back-to-back shared races (Barker smoothly beating Schlein then Covatti pipping Wilson-Dean in a sensational showdown between two men who are team-mates at Premiership side Somerset) followed before Ipswich hit the front for the first time.
Schlein claimed a tapes-to-flag triumph in heat 13 and Ellis’ third place earned the visitors a 4-2, but Panthers weren’t about to panic with their dependable Dane due on track.
Palm Toft didn’t disappoint as he led from start to finish in heat 14 and Panthers were briefly on course for a 5-1 as reserve partner Grondal held second spot until getting out of shape in the final bend of the first lap and dropping behind Riss.
That left the sides level going into the closing race and they emerged in the same position following another Palm Toft success.
Another big meeting lies ahead for Panthers as they go to Lakeside for a top-of-the-table showdown on Friday (August 10).
PANTHERS: Michael Palm Toft 11, Tom Bacon 8+2, Scott Nicholls 7, Ben Barker (guest) 6+1, Emil Grondal 5+1, Simon Lambert 4+1, Bradley Wilson-Dean 4.
IPSWICH: Adam Ellis (guest) 9, Cameron Heeps 7+2, Mark Riss 6, Coty Garcia 2+1, David Wallinger 0.