LEICESTER’S play-off dreams were cruelly dashed with a 58-32 defeat at Peterborough – enabling Ipswich to hang on to the final place in the top four.

The Watling JCB Lions needed to score 34 match points at the East of England Arena in order to take the aggregate point against a revitalised Panthers side who would surely be in the title battle themselves had they started the season with their current line-up, and had they done so it would have edged them back ahead of the Witches in the league table.

But after a nightmare start which saw them concede 5-1s in each of the first three races, they were left fighting a desperate rearguard action to get the points they needed – and sadly they fell just short.

All of the pre-meeting talk had been over former Lions skipper Chris Harris, now racing for the Panthers, and his chances of knocking out his old side, but the irony was that it was the majority of the other home riders who did the damage.

Lions were unable to stop either Artem Laguta or Niels-Kristian Iversen, and although Vadim Tarasenko was denied a maximum in the last race he still secured the third place to end the visitors’ hopes.

The opening six races were little short of disastrous, the only respite coming when Richard Lawson held off Harris to win Heat 4, but in the next race captain Max Fricke made a flying start only to shoot across the first bend towards the fence, dropping to the back as a result.

Justin Sedgmen split Tarasenko and Benjamin Basso, but a second 5-1 from the Laguta/Iversen pairing followed, and the Panthers’ lead was up to 18 points on the night.

Lions came back into it with a 5-1 in Heat 7 as Fricke took a tactical substitute ride and won it whilst Lewis Kerr rode strongly to defeat Harris, and the next race was shared with Sedgmen and Drew Kemp doing enough to keep Jordan Jenkins at the back.

But the Panthers then banged in two more 5-1s with Heat 10 seeing Laguta make a spectacular third-to-first move with Iversen retrieving second place from Kerr to make it 41-19, with the aggregate gap down to two points.

Fricke and Sedgmen raced to what appeared to be a crucial 5-1 over Harris in Heat 11 but the Panthers responded immediately with Jenkins producing a great ride to move inside Kerr on lap two as Tarasenko reeled off his fourth win.

With tension rising, Heat 13 was shared as Fricke ensured Lawson would get home ahead of Harris, but the aggregate scores were levelled with a Peterborough 4-2 in Heat 14 which came down to a blanket finish as Kerr nearly passed Basso but only just held off Ben Cook for second place.

Lions faced two unbeaten riders in Heat 15 and were faced with a similar situation to Wolverhampton on Monday when the race initially looked set for a 3-3, with the prospect of a Super Heat to decide the all-important extra point.

But with Laguta checking off in front for the Panthers, the Lions were unable to keep Tarasenko out of the points as he slipped around Lawson on the third lap to spark celebrations from the home camp as they achieved their target of the aggregate point – but it spelt the end of the Lions’ Sports Insure Premiership campaign.

Manager Stewart Dickson said: “I said before the meeting that we couldn’t afford to let them get off to a flying start, the momentum would be high in their pits.

“They could only do the job that they could do – it wasn’t a personal thing against Leicester to put us out, and we contributed a bit to our own downfall tonight.

“I’m not going to have a pop at my riders, they gave everything all season and they’re all very disappointed, as the supporters are and I went over and spoke to them after Heat 15.

“I’m disappointed myself – we wanted to get into the play-offs, of course we did, although you have to say on tonight’s performance we didn’t deserve it.

“But we’ve still had a good season. It’s been difficult at times, and unfortunately we just ran out of steam at the vital time.

“Some of our riders are on their last legs, you could see it tonight, and we came up against a team who actually look ready for the play-offs if they’d made it, whereas we didn’t look ready for them unfortunately.”

PETERBOROUGH 58: Artem Laguta 14+1, Vadim Tarasenko 13, Niels-Kristian Iversen 10+2, Benjamin Basso 8+2, Jordan Jenkins 5+3, Ben Cook 5, Chris Harris 3.
LEICESTER 32: Max Fricke 10+1, Justin Sedgmen 7+1, Lewis Kerr 6+1, Richard Lawson 6, Jake Allen 2, Drew Kemp 1+1, Richie Worrall r/r.
Peterborough win the aggregate point.

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July 18, 2024 19.30

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