Another point on the road for the Panthers
BIRMINGHAM ...............47 PANTHERS ...................43
PANTHERS may not have won at Perry Barr last night but they’re proving far tougher to beat on their travels this year.
From being dismal on the road last season, they have picked up at least a point in all three away meetings to date in 2012 with a win at King’s Lynn and narrow defeats at Eastbourne and now Birmingham.
That sequence may be put to the test at Elite League leaders Lakeside’s tight circuit tonight though, especially as skipper Kenneth Bjerre will be missing due to him travelling to Saturday’s Czech Grand Prix.
After nearly three weeks without a meeting due to the recent rainfalls, and last night’s was the only one to beat the weather, Panthers were a little slow to find their form last night and ultimately it was the two 5-1s they conceded in the opening three heats that cost them dearly.
They battled back impressively and got within two points of their hosts before a 4-2 in the penultimate race halted their push for at least a draw.
Panthers provided nine of the 15 heat winners but sadly they also supplied nine of the last-placers so they never really took advantage of those victories.
Bjerre, who will be replaced by former Panthers star Niels Kristian Iversen at Lakeside tonight, rattled off three wins to top-score while Jesper B Monberg, a star of the 2006 title-winning squad, reached double figures on his first outing from the reserve berth.
Monberg dropped down to reserve following the sensational early season form of fellow Dane Michael Jepsen Jensen - who had scored at least 16 points in all three Panthers meetings prior to last night - and it is clear co-bosses Jan Staechmann and Trevor Swales will be replying on regular big scores from the number seven berth.
This team is set up to score points throughout the side, home and away, and only Richard Lawson failed to record a race win last night.
Jepsen Jensen won’t score so heavily from the main body of the team but there is no reason why Monberg can’t produce these double-figure scores on a regular basis.
Panthers were on the receiving end of a 5-1 in the opening heat as Bjarne Pedersen blasted away from the traps with Martin Smolinski keeping Bjerre at bay.
Josh Auty then blasted round the outside of Monberg on the opening lap of heat two to take victory.
Thankfully former Panther Tomasz Piszcz, in his first outing of the season for the Brummies, was trailing at the back - as he did for much of his time at Alwalton - so Lawson’s third place ensured the points were shared.
The hosts had life far too easy next time out as Ben Barker and Huntingdon speedster Danny King left Olly Allen, who suffered mechanical problems throughout the meeting, and Jepsen Jensen trailing for a second 5-1 of the night.
But having failed to provide a heat winner in the opening three races, Panthers supplied the next six victors, halving Birmingham’s lead to four points in the process.
Monberg gained revenge over Auty in a re-run heat four - all four riders being called back after an unsatisfactory start with Auty moving before the tapes rose.
Auty gave a determined effort in the re-run as Monberg proved what an asset he will be at reserve, but Linus Sundstrom - another to experience bike problems before the race even got under way - was off the pace.
Panthers looked set for their first heat advantage next time out as Bjerre and Rene Bach blasted away from the tapes but while Bjerre held on to win Bach fell on the second lap.
Another shared heat followed as Sundstrom battled his way past Pedersen to win the sixth instalment.
Panthers threatened a 5-1 in heat seven as Jepsen Jensen and Allen hit the front but Seb Ulamek caught the latter on the third lap so the visitors had to settle for a 4-2.
Two more heat advantages followed in succession as Panthers were now gating well and looking capable of completing an impressive fightback.
Smolinski fell on the second lap and that left Panthers with a ‘two versus one’ in the re-run and they took advantage for another 4-2.
Bach just held off the spirited Auty with Monberg in third and the latter, in to replace Lawson, followed up with victory minutes later in heat nine.
Sundstrom also gated well but was caught at the start of the second lap by King.
After three successive 4-2s, Panthers knew another would bring them level but Pedersen blasted past his fellow Dane Jepsen Jensen for a 3-3.
Bjerre went so close to bringing the scores level in heat 11 but Ulamek just managed to keep him at bay, with Bach - who had flown from the tapes - in third for another 3-3.
Allen took the honours in heat 12 as the points were again shared, Auty recovering from a poor start to catch Lawson for third before the opening lap was over.
A fourth successive stalemate came in heat 13, Bjerre blasting inside Ulamek to earn a 3-3.
The hosts had now gone 10 races without a heat advantage but they could hardly have ended that sequence in more timely manner as a 4-2 in the penultimate heat - earned when Auty past Jepsen Jensen for third while Barker coasted to victory - left the Brummies within reach of victory.
Bjerre reeled off his third win in a shared final heat as Panthers had to settle for a single point