They might have caused the odd little wobble, but Peterborough Panthers didn’t succeed in knocking the Edinburgh Monarchs off their Premier League throne. Not yet anyway.
The city racers collected a 46-44 success over the table-topping reigning champions in the opening leg of their play-offs semi-final showdown at the East of England Showground yesterday (October 4).
A 5-1 from high-scoring reserve Emil Grondal and stand-in captain Simon Lambert proved to be the decisive contribution in a tight, tense and often thrilling clash in which the two sides were never more than four points apart.
The lead changed hands on several occasions with Panthers making an already tough task even harder for themselves by frequently being beaten out of the gate.
And on one of the rare occasions they did succeed in beating their opponents away from the tapes, they were dealt yet another slice of bad luck. They should probably expect nothing else in this problem-ridden season.
Ben Barker’s lightning start to the finale was brought to an abrupt halt by a snapped chain going through the second bend.
The Cornishman cut a disconsolate figure on the centre green after a mechanical shortcoming which could prove costly in the overall picture. No doubt his mammoth journey home to Truro will have felt even longer than usual last night.
He and Anders Thomsen were on a 5-1 at the time after producing a pair of rocket starts and the vast majority of those inside Alwalton would already have been dreaming of a six-point aggregate cushion.
World Under 21 Championship silver medallist Thomsen, riding impressively through the pain of a broken scaphoid, did at least succeed in keeping star Edinburgh men Craig Cook and Justin Sedgmen at bay to ensure Panthers head to Scotland on Friday (October 9) with a small advantage.
And, even though it could be wiped out in the space of one race, a two-point cushion is certainly better than nothing for a side who will travel north with high hopes of success after turning over the Monarchs on their own shale in a league meeting earlier this season.
“We wanted to go up there with a lead and we’ve got one,” said joint team boss Carl Johnson.
“It might be a slim one, but we have already won up there once this season and we will go back on Friday with a stronger team than we had on that occasion.
“Our away form on the whole has been excellent and the lead means we can go there with the mindset of having something to defend rather than having to chase.
“We can probably count ourselves unfortunate not to have a bigger advantage after Ben’s unlucky breakdown in heat 15, but those things happen in speedway. We’ve not had any good luck all season and it certainly doesn’t look like changing.
“We do need to focus on improving out gating because it wasn’t good enough last night. We were out-trapped in 13 of the 15 races and we can’t afford to let that happen again in the second leg.
“But Friday is a different day at a different track and we will go there relaxed, refreshed and ready to roll.
“We have several guys who enjoy racing on small tracks and I’m confident we can cause Edinburgh problems.”
Panthers provided only six racewinners compared to the Monarchs’ nine last night although they fared better in heat advantages - claiming five compared to the visitors’ three.
The Monarchs’ gains were provided by a hat-trick of 5-1s from the classy combination of top-scorer Sedgmen and number one Cook.
They got off to a flying start in the opener and restored the visitors’ lead in heat five after Grondal and Barker had teamed up for a 5-1 of their own in the previous race.
A flurry of three 4-2s in the space of four races then enabled Panthers to wipe out their next four-point deficit and hit the front for the first time, although the two-point cushion provided by a Thomsen-inspired triumph in heat nine didn’t last long.
Sedgmen and Cook left Barker trailing from the tapes in heat 11 to edge Edinburgh back into the ascendency before Grondal and Lambert delivered the most telling blow for Panthers in the penultimate contest.
And Thomsen’s successful solo mission in the finale, following Barker’s early exit, ensured Panthers hit the halfway stage of the tie on top.
But, on a night of fine racing, arguably the best lap of all was completed before the start of the meeting by Lewis Kerr.
The King’s Lynn and Newcastle star received a great reception as he returned to the Showground for the first time since a crash in the Premier League Fours nine weeks ago which left him being airlifted to hospital in an induced coma.
READYPOWER PANTHERS: Emil Grondal 10+1, Anders Thomsen 10, Ben Barker 7+2, Michael Palm Toft 7, Rohan Tungate (guest) 6+1, Simon Lambert 5+2, Rafal Konopka 1+1.
EDINBUGH: Justin Sedgmen 14+2, Craig Cook 12+2, Erik Riss 9, Sam Masters 5, Robert Branford 4+1, Max Clegg 0, Rider replacement for Kevin Wolbert.