Panthers down but not without a fight
THIS was a case of so near, yet so far.
Panthers produced their best away display since the opening day of the season in front of the Sky TV cameras, but they still headed home empty-handed.
They pushed Wolverhampton to the limit around their Monmore Green base, only surrendering a chance of victory in the penultimate contest and then agonisingly missing out on a consolation point in the finale.
Krzysztof Buczkowski (muchimproved from his first visit to the Midlands arena last month) and Rory Schlein were the men to be squeezed out when bringing up the rear in the final two races.
But this was very much a step in the right direction for a team who paid the price for conceding a couple of poor 5-1 maximums going into the final third.
And then a bold gamble to throw in number eight Craig Cook for his only appearance of the night in heat 11 backfired as Panthers came up just short.
Cook was called upon despite top-scorer Kenneth Bjerre being on a tactical ride and in need of strong back-up.
“But the lads gave it a really good go and we were in contention right to the bitter end at a very tough place,” pointed out team manager Trevor Swales, the man behind that decision to deploy Cook.
This was gripping stuff throughout as the very real threat of torrential rain held off.
The best rider in the Elite League had the edge over one of the best riders in the world in heat one as home talisman Freddie Lindgren dashed down the inside of Panthers’ stand-in skipper Bjerre on the opening lap.
Lindgren clearly isn’t running on a 10-point plus average for no reason but Buczkowski packed in for minor honours as the spoils were shared.
And that proved the only time a home rider lowered the colours of Bjerre who clearly had the bit between his teeth after being eclipsed at the head of the World Championship at the weekend.
Reserve Mat Tresarrieu found himself racing from a 15-metre handicap after rolling into the
ANOTHER GREAT EFFORT: But Kenneth Bjerre at his best wasn’t enough to earn Panthers victory. tapes at the start of heat two, but Panthers’ luck soon changed.
Buczkowski rocketed out of the gate to hit the front and take victory while Tresarrieu was gifted third place when Ludvig Lindgren packed up.
Panthers packed the minor places in the next when Adam Skornicki was shut out at the back despite a somewhat rocky ride from Rory Schlein but the narrow lead was erased in heat four when guest Danny King was surprisingly stuck at the rear.
Bjerre’s opening victory of the night maintained the deadlock while King was seen in a much better light in heat six as he held the edge over Freddie Lindgren until the final lap – his one really decent outing of the night as he finished with just three points.
But with Tresarrieu unsurprisingly off the pace, the hosts claimed a 4-2 to hit the front for the first time. Another swiftly followed in an all-action seventh contest when Wolverhampton reserves Matt Wethers ruffled the feathers of Schlein and Troy Batchelor.
The latter rescued the situation when dashing down the inside on the run to the line to pip countryman Wethers by half-a-bike length.
Panthers made the best of a bad situation in heat eight to stay in touch as Schlein took the flag when on a solo mission in the re-run.
The visitors had briefly been on a maximum in the initial staging before Buczkowski bailed out in turn three of lap two.
Things soon did go downhill though as those back-to-back maximums – when the King/Buczkowski and the Schlein/Batchelor partnerships were on the receiving end - sent Wolverhampton speeding clear.
But, for once on the road, that wasn’t the cue for Panthers to roll over as they ate into a 12-point deficit.
Bjerre made the most of his tactical outing in heat 11 to reduce the arrears to nine points when condemning GP rival Tai Woffinden to a first defeat of the night.
And Schlein soon provided further momentum when diving down ‘Karlsson Corridor’ (a strip of shale off the inside of the second bend) to take the spoils in the next.
Buczkowski bagged third to cut the arrears to seven points.
That’s the way it stayed when Bjerre went tapes to flag in heat 13 (also ending Freddie Lindgren’s unblemished record) and Panthers were finally denied victory when Buczkowski could find no way past Wethers during a stunning penultimate race duel.
It was a similar story in the last as Panthers required a heat advantage to snatch a point.
Bjerre did his bit way out in front and Schlein was all over Woffinden, but at the end of the day it was to no avail