Peterborough Panthers battled to a precious point in the chase for the SGB Championship play-offs – but felt they were robbed of another one.
Team boss Carl Johnson was left with mixed emotions following a 47-43 defeat at Newcastle for his table-toppers last night (August 19).
While he heaped praise on a rousing fightback from the city side, who were 10 points down after 10 races, Johnson was left to rue a costly refereeing gaffe in the final heat.
Panthers guest Paul Starke produced a fine burst into second place only to be thrown out by official Stuart Wilson after home rider Stuart Robson hit the deck – even though there was no contact between them.
Starke and number one Scott Nicholls sat on the 5-1 needed to snatch a dramatic draw at that moment, but they had to settle for a narrow defeat instead with Nicholls breezing clear of Matej Kus and Robson in the re-run.
Johnson said: “We’re pleased to come away with one point, but we’re very disappointed not to have two.
“There is no doubt we were on the receiving end of a wrong decision in heat 15. Even the rider who went down admitted he hadn’t been hit.
“It was clear that Paul had made a clean pass, but these are split-second decisions and tough for referees to get right.
“They can only give what they see, but it definitely went against us on this occasion.”
That victory in the re-run finale completed another fine showing from Nicholls, who led the Panthers’ challenge with a 14+1-point haul only 24 hours after piling up a 17+1 paid maximum in defeat at Berwick.
He endured a tough start when on the receiving end of a 5-1 in the opening race, but he went on to claim victories in three of his remaining five outings and also followed in Starke for a heat 13 5-1 with dragged Panthers back into contention.
Michael Palm Toft provided the finest support with a paid 10+1 return from his four rides which featured victories in his first (heat three) and last (heat 14) outings.
The Dane, riding through ankle pain following a Saturday spill at Berwick, also combined for a 5-1 with tactical substitute Nicholls in heat seven before dropping his only point to an opponent when beaten by Diamonds number one Robson in a shared 10th heat.
Starke added nine points while reserve Tom Bacon battled his way to six despite a heavy crash and exclusion in heat six.
Bradley Wilson-Dean – another man to hit the deck at Berwick the previous evening - provided a fine heat 12 triumph after only pocketing one point from his previous two rides. He missed out on another appearance on track when Nicholls was deployed for that tactical substitute outing.
But captain Simon Lambert and reserve Emil Grondal both drew blanks as they failed to get to grips with the Brough Park track.
Johnson added: “We carried two riders and that always makes things hard.
“We also had Bradley and Michael feeling sore after their crashes at Berwick, but we dug in to make sure we got something out of the meeting.”
Panthers now sit two points clear of closest challengers Lakeside, who have two meetings in hand, at the SGB Championship summit.
They have an eight-point cushion over fifth-placed side Workington, but the Comets have completed four fewer meetings.
Panthers return to action this Thursday (August 23) with an East Anglian derby trip to Ipswich.
NEWCASTLE: Matej Kus 11+1, Stuart Robson 10+1, Matthew Wethers 7+3, Tero Aarnio 6+1, Ashley Morris 5+1, Ludvig Lindgren 5, Carl Wilkinson 3.
PANTHERS: Scott Nicholls 14+1, Michael Palm Toft 10+1, Paul Starke (guest) 9, Tom Bacon 6+1, Bradley Wilson-Dean 4+1, Simon Lambert 0, Emil Grondal 0.