Panthers lose one Aussie legend but gain another star from Down Under
WHAT THE BUTLER SAW . . .
DICK Butler has arrived at 1996 in his journey back in time. It was the second - and last - season in which all teams competed in one big Premier League, but it was another decent campaign for Panthers who had to get used to being the bridesmaids. AUSSIE IN, AUSSIE OUT Panthers lost club legend Mick Poole to retirement, but another major star from Down Under was drafted in as his replacement.
Jason Crump, who took his first steps in the sport with the city club, returned from Poole and formed a potent spearhead with fellow Aussie Ryan Sullivan and the popular Sam Tesar.
Another Czech, the firebrand Mario Jirout, and Alun Rossiter held down the second string roles while British talents Scott Swain and Tommy Palmer got the nod at reserve. SNOW JOKE Panthers’ highly-rated team quickly issued a statement of intent with a 50-46 victory at Reading.
They would have been hot favourites to complete the double, but the Alwalton return was abandoned after only one race due to heavy snowfall. It is the only known example of the white stuff stopping play at the Showground. ALUN AXED A diet of convincing home wins and narrow away defeats kept Panthers in the thick of things at the top of the table, but the form of Rossiter nosedived so badly that he was axed. Danish rider Anders Nielsen was his replacement. POOLE POPS IN Panthers received some relief from the rigours of a demanding season when Mick Poole staged his Farewell at the Showground in early June.
He showed he had lost none of his old magic despite hanging up his leathers with two victories and nine points while riding for the victorious Peterborough Past & Present side that defeated an International Select 51-45. FOURS FINAL Panthers were unable to deliver a home success in the Premier League Fours at Alwalton.
The absence of Sullivan due to a World Under 21 qualifier hardly helped but the city lads still powered into the final.
But the exit of Tesar with an injury after just two rides in the showpiece took the sting out of their challenge and they had to settle for second behind Oxford. Score: Oxford 23, Panthers 17, Hull 16, Ipswich 16. IT’S A KNOCKOUT! Panthers also made progress in the KO Cup, reaching the semi-finals with a two-point aggregate victory over the London Lions.
Once there they demolished Exeter 61-35 in the first leg before a draw in the return sealed a smooth passage into the final against Wolverhampton.
Both of those results were quickly followed by impressive league results in the shape of wins at Bradford and Poole - the former achieved despite being without Nielsen and Jirout due to injury. NO FINAL FLOURISH Panthers’ prospects of lifting the KO Cup appeared to improve when Wolves announced they would have to stage their home leg at Long Eaton due to redevelopment work at Monmore Green.
But things didn’t go to plan for Panthers as they slumped to a 5838 loss leaving them with a mountain to climb back at Alwalton.
They made a good fist of clawing their way back into contention but a Wolves 4-2 in heat 14 sealed their overall win. It ended 100-92 on aggregate. SO CLOSE FROM CRUMP The Aussie star won all four of his qualifying heats and also took the flag in the semi-final, but he was denied Premier League Riders’ Championship glory by Sam Ermolenko. AWFUL END A terrific season ended on a low note when Anders Nielsen suffered a broken leg in a heat eight crash during the final league clash of the season. The fixture against Coventry was abandoned after the accident.
It didn’t affect Panthers’ secondplace finish in the final standings. ANYTHING BUT AVERAGE Crump was the undisputed star turn and ended the campaign with a super 10.20 average. He slammed in an incredible 10 full or paid maximums. Sullivan (9.01) and Tesar (8.94) were others to impress.