Panthers fight back to provide a happy ending
PANTHERS .................. 51 BIRMINGHAM .............. 42 (Elite League – Panthers 3pts, Birmingham 0pts) PANTHERS returned to winning ways on a day that veered from farcical to fabulous.
The city side overcame plenty of bad planning and a fair bit of bad luck to sink Birmingham at the East of England Showground last night.
It provided a happy end to a few hours which had seen one rider sacked, another hired, a new-look line-up thrown out and the loss of key man Olly Allen to injury after crashing in the first corner of his first ride.
Allen was dumped on the deck by Birmingham man Josh Auty at the start of heat four and the suspicion of plenty of Showground spectators was that Auty had been rather naughty in that incident.
Allen departed with rib damage (something which ranks him as a big doubt for away trips to Poole on Wednesday and Swindon on Thursday) and that meant the two Panthers reserves were left to take his rides.
With chief bottom-end scorer Jesper B. Monberg sitting at home in Denmark with his future in the air, the burden was left to Richard Lawson and late guest call-up Jason Bunyan.
Things were looking even more pear-shaped when they trailed by three points with just three races remaining, but Panthers dug deep in the face of adversity and powered to glory in spectacular style in their first home outing for six-and-a-half weeks thanks to a hat-trick of 5-1s in the final three races.
Captain Kenneth Bjerre, Swedish star Linus Sundstrom (two riders who dropped only a point apiece to opponents) and the overworked Lawson provided those fine results.
“It just shows the spirit in the team,” said skipper Bjerre, the scorer of 13+1 points. “The boys stuck together during a tough night and we got the result we all wanted.
“It was nice to finish the meeting so well and get all three points on a night when we lost a rider injured early on – and it was great to be back racing at our home track again.”
Team declarations and injuries didn’t provide the only hitches as the opening race lasted five laps before referee Peter Clarke stepped in to bring proceedings to a halt.
It ended in a share of the spoils with the Bjerre brothers poles apart – Kenneth out in front and Lasse at the rear – but Panthers were quickly behind after an Auty-inspired 4-2 for the visitors in the second contest.
That soon changed when Michael Jepsen Jensen blazed a trail to glory in heat three and partner Sundstrom was soon in his wheel-tracks for a 51 after zooming round the outside of
Kenneth Bjerre (red helmet) and brother Lasse (blue) take on Birmingham guest Simon Stead in the opening heat last night. Danny King.
Lawson filled the void left by Allen’s exit in style by taking the flag in a re-run of heat four which ended in a home 4-2 and another 5-1 quickly followed from the Sundstrom/ Jepsen Jensen combination before the Bjerre’s got in on the act with a 4-2 in heat six.
But Panthers were probably left regretting the latter of those advantages as it stretched their lead to 10 points and allowed Birmingham to deploy a tactical rider in the next race.
The visitors took full advantage as Ben Barker donned the black and white helmet to great effect when leading home partner King for a bloodless 8-1 over a weakened Panthers reserve combination which reduced their arrears to just three points.
And that’s the way it stayed through a series of shared heats – a run which featured first defeats of the night for Bjerre (the Kenneth variety), Sundstrom and Jepsen Jensen – before Birmingham hit the front in heat 11 when guest number one Simon Stead and German charger Martin Smolinski breezed to a 5-1 return.
Lawson almost came down on the opening lap of that race as he launched a demanding run of four successive outings and fared little better in the next when trailing home last in a Brummies 4-2 which left Panthers staring at defeat.
But Lawson returned refreshed, reinvigorated and aboard new machinery following the interval to play a starring role in the march to victory.
He claimed the notable scalps of Seb Ulamek and Stead when following home his captain Kenneth Bjerre for a terrific maximum in heat 13. That contribution helped Panthers go a point up but even better was to come as Lawson zoomed into second spot behind Sundstrom in the penultimate race to bag another maximum that secured victory on the night.
And he was enjoying a well-earned rest by the time Bjerre and Sundstrom applied the icing to this particular Elite League cake in the finale to secure maximum points.