Witches fall at the last hurdle

PETERBOROUGH PANTHERS 45 IPSWICH WITCHES 44 (agg Ipswich 93 Peterborough 86)IPSWICH ran true to form in this British League Cup clash at Peterborough. They held the lead from the second heat to the last, yet still lost.

By Elvin King

PETERBOROUGH PANTHERS 45 IPSWICH WITCHES 44 (agg Ipswich 93 Peterborough 86)

IPSWICH ran true to form in this British League Cup clash at Peterborough.

They held the lead from the second heat until the final race – yet still lost.

A 5-1 success for Peterborough in heat 15 was enough to give the home side victory by one point at the East of England Showground.

This is how the season has gone for the Evening Star Witches with not enough bite or drive to carve out victories.

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From the interval at the end of heat nine it was clear the way the match was going to go – and it did not take a genius to conclude that the Panthers were on course to win by one point.

Ipswich had no answer to the power of Peterborough's three heat leaders, yet knew too much for the home side's other four riders.

Heats ten, 11 and 12 looked like draws with Kenneth Bjerre, Chris Harris and Shane Parker likely winners. And this is how it turned out.

Race 13 looked a 5-1 to the Panthers, but Chris Slabon came up with a surprise when he claimed second place.

The Pole made a superb start from the inside and although he was passed by Harris on the last lap he looked to have done enough to earn Ipswich their first away win of the season.

The visitors needed a heat 14 5-1 to clinch the match – and they were up against two riders who had failed to score a single point.

But it all went pear-shaped when Boston's Conference League rider Mark Thompson headed 16-year-old Daniel King.

Kim Jansson duly took the chequered flag, but Thompson's comfortable second place kept Peterborough within three points – and in the driving seat.

Witches team manager Mike Smillie selected Daniel Nermark and Chris Slabon for the final race, and they had their hands full against Parker and Harris.

Slabon, who had gated superbly off gate one two races earlier, agreed with Nermark that he would go off gate three.

The latter made the best start from the inside and came across to try and deny the Peterborough men a run round the outside.

But he just failed to get ahead enough – and it was game, set and match as Harris and Parker got in front and easily gained a 5-1 that sent the home fans wild.

Panthers' top three had too much speed for Ipswich, and on the occasions when a Witches rider made the best start it was normally only a matter of time before they got picked off.

The facts highlight that a three-man Peterborough beat a seven-man Ipswich, with the Witches winning just four races, but coming last in just three.

Ipswich did go home with the aggregate bonus point after their 48-42 home win, and if they manage the extra point in their remaining group matches against Arena-Essex, King's Lynn and Rye House it could well be enough to see them through to the quarter-final stage.

But there is no denying that a win last night would have considerably improved their chances of making something out of a season that has already seen them cast adrift in the bottom two of the Elite League. Gary Havelock injured a leg riding in Sweden, and Paul Fry arrived at the showground but was not allowed to ride as Peterborough already had two floaters in their side – Harris and Bjerre.

Newcastle's Bjerre went within one tenth of a second of the track record in heat one, before an engine failure for Ben Howe proved crucial to the outcome of the match.

He lost power about three seconds before James Horton crashed on the third lap of heat two. King had passed Danny Norton on the second lap to take the lead.

Howe did not pick up a point when the race was awarded because he was not under power at the time of the stoppage.

Parker passed Nermark on the third lap of heat three, and then the slow-starting Harris got beyond King on the last lap of heat four but was beaten by Bird.

Parker fizzed round the outside of fellow skipper Tom P Madsen on the third and fourth bends of race five.

Two more predictable drawn heats followed, before Ipswich got their expected 5-1 in heat eight.

Bjerre came in as a tactical substitute in the next heat, but had to borrow a bike. He and Parker went either side of Bird coming out of the second turn, but Bird forced his way into second place.

However, Bjerre made a vital pass on the final lap to see the Panthers collect a 5-1 and move to within three points.

Bjerre then won a titanic tussle with Kim Jansson to win heat ten, before Harris and Parker gated to wins in heats 11 and 12.

Bird seized an engine while in the pits and Howe took his place in heat 13. With a bike badly damaged at Ipswich on Thursday, the busy Bird is rapidly running out of equipment.

This competition is a mix of Elite League, Premier League and Conference League, and on this evidence is well worth pursuing.

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