Speedway: Sheffield Tigers 45 Peterborough 45

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Sheffield were held to a draw in a tight Championship opener against Peterborough which saw skipper Kyle Howarth withdraw from the meeting.

Howarth, who crashed at Redcar last Friday and missed the trip to Newcastle two nights later, struggled in his opening two rides and was ruled out at the halfway stage as Tigers lost a four-point lead in the last two races.

The reigning champions had to fight back from an early deficit when their opening pair were out-gated by Scott Nicholls and Emil Grondal in Heat 1, with Howarth pulling out of the race.

And although reserves James Shanes and Jack Smith hit straight back with a 5-1 in the next, it was quickly clear that a solid Panthers’ top five would present a serious challenge, and they edged back ahead in Heat 5.

Todd Kurtz brought the hosts level in Heat 6 by coming through inside Ulrich Ostergaard off bend two on the last lap – but the Panthers immediately responded with a 4-2 of their own in the next as Charles Wright was caught out by Michael Palm Toft’s tight line on the pits turn.

However, Shanes and Kurtz finally got the home side in front with maximum points in Heat 8, and Shanes came into Heat 9 to good effect with a 4-2 to extend the margin to four. That looked set to be wiped out in the next only for Wright, replacing Howarth, to provide a sensational ride, passing Palm Toft on the outside and then charging inside Nike Lunna going into the last bend to take a fabulous win.

Wright then split Nicholls and Grondal in Heat 11 as the visitors refused to crack, and Sheffield’s lead going into the final three heats was just two points.

Another party piece from Wright saw him go round Nicholls in Heat 13, leaving the score at 41-37 but the Panthers responded immediately with their own 4-2 to set up a nervous finale. And with Bjerre squeezed out on the first bend, Nicholls held his nerve to fend off Wright on this occasion with Palm Toft supplying third place and share the spoils overall.

Tigers head to Glasgow tonight but with a major doubt over Howarth, and with ten of the eleven Championship clubs in action finding adequate guest cover could prove a major headache.

SHEFFIELD 45: Charles Wright 14, Lasse Bjerre 12, James Shanes 9+2, Todd Kurtz 7, Jack Smith 2+1, Kyle Howarth 1, Jan Graversen 0.

PETERBOROUGH 45: Scott Nicholls 12, Michael Palm Toft 9, Nike Lunna 7, Ulrich Ostergaard 7, Emil Grondal 6+1, Tom Bacon 2+1, Simon Lambert 2.