It’s all going wrong for Peterborough Panthers.
What looked set to be a spectacular story of sporting success has rapidly turned into a tale of injury-laden, trophy-fading woe.
The city club were beaten 46-44 by Lakeside in the opening leg of their SGB Championship play-offs semi-final at the East of England Arena last night (October 7). It came just a week after the Hammers dumped them out of the Shield at the semi-final stage.
The latest defeat was a lot more respectable but arguably even more disappointing than a 59-31 drubbing at Scunthorpe on Friday (October 4) in the first leg of a KO Cup semi-final.
In the space of a few days, table-topping Panthers have seen their treble hopes suffer huge damage as their casualty list – number one Scott Nicholls, star reserve Tom Bacon and middle-order man Bradley Wilson-Dean are all out for the season – takes its toll.
Throw in another rider returning from a lay-off, others struggling for form and the need to rely on guest riders and it’s far from being a cocktail for success.
In fact, were it not for a superhuman 16+1 point showing from skipper Simon Lambert last night, the season would, in all reality, already be over.
However, the fact that Workington overturned a 28-point deficit against Edinburgh in the other KO Cup semi and Panthers’ own fine record at Rye House are reasons for hope on both fronts. But those hopes are slim at best.
“It’s vital to have everyone on their ‘A’ game in big meetings,” said Johnson. “But we’ve not had that in the last few days.
“Simon was absolutely fantastic last night and the only disappointment is that I couldn’t give him more than seven rides. I’d have used him in at least 10 races given the chance!
“But unfortunately some other riders were way off the performances we needed from them.
“Losing the first leg of the play-off is not what we wanted or expected, but that’s the position we find ourselves in.
“All we can do now is dig deep and try to pull it out of the bag in the second leg and we know we’re capable of doing that.
“It’s hard when we’re having to use so many guests but we can’t help the situation we’re in and we’ve just got to give it everything.”
Lambert quickly seized command of the opener to triumph in a shared race and then completed an early double in heat two when sweeping past Hammers man Ben Morley leaving the final bend after a race-long pursuit.
That ride inspired the first advantage as Panthers’ guest Jordan Stewart took third spot in a 4-2 and Lambert then led home Michael Palm Toft for a 5-1 in an awarded fourth contest after Lakeside man Nick Morris tumbled into the third-bend fence on lap two.
Panthers also provided the winner of a shared third contest with Ulrich Ostergaard claiming a tapes to flag victory, but the veteran Dane was powerless to prevent Lakeside duo Richard Lawson and Zach Wajtknecht from roaring to a 5-1 in heat five.
Panthers came within metres of hitting back in kind but Lambert had his pocket picked by Morris leaving the final bend of the sixth race – an overtaking manoeuvre that meant the city side had to settle for a 4-2 with guest Worrall taking the flag.
But their lead was wiped out moments later as Palm Toft and Stewart made a mess of the start in heat seven and could only watch on from afar as Adam Ellis and Kyle Newman banked a full house for the Hammers
After seeing their advantage disappear, Panthers promptly set about building another one as Ostergaard and Lambert combined to great effect for a 5-1 in heat eight – successfully keeping Zach Wajtknecht at bay.
That four-point cushion was immediately halved when Morris got the better of Ostergaard in a tight start to heat nine while Grondal completed an unwanted hat-trick of last places. His pointless night later finished with a retirement.
Worrall then held on from fast-finishing Newman for a valuable third place in a shared 10th instalment before a terrific 11th heat provided two races in one . . . and Panthers won both of them thanks to fine passing moves. Palm Toft powered round Lawson for victory and Stewart swept past Wajtknecht to earn third spot, but it didn’t provide a platform on which to claim victory.
Panthers were on the receiving end of three successive 4-2s as a four-point advantage turned into a two-point deficit and that’s the way it stayed despite a fine Palm Toft triumph in the finale as Lakeside were left in control of the tie.
The classic Journey song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ was played over the Alwalton airwaves following heat 15. It was an apt selection.
Panthers will now attempt to salvage their campaign this coming weekend. They entertain Scunthorpe in the second leg of the KO Cup semi-final on Saturday (October 13, 7pm) before heading to the Hammers’ adopted Rye House home on Sunday (October 14, 2pm).
PANTHERS: Simon Lambert 16+1, Michael Palm Toft 9+1, Ulrich Ostergaard 9, Steve Worrall (guest) 6+1, Jordan Stewart (guest) 4, Emil Grondal 0, Rider replacement for Bradley Wilson-Dean.
LAKESIDE: Adam Ellis 12+1, Nick Morris 10+2, Richard Lawson 7+1, Ben Morley 7, Zach Wajtknecht 5+1, Kyle Newman 4+2, Alfie Bowtell 1.