THE scale of Pirates’ Elite League task was made abundantly clear tonight as leaders King’s Lynn condemned Neil Middleditch’s men to a second successive defeat on home shale.
The Stars increased to 10 points the gap between themselves and the third-placed Pirates with a last-gasp 46-44 win on the south coast, against a side whose attempts to retain the 2013 title took a knock, if not a telling blow.
Even allowing for the absence of ill heat leader Maciej Janowski, this was a stark warning of what Pirates can expect come the play-offs – should they qualify – with Lynn’s strength-in-depth evident to everyone inside Wimborne Road.
Promoter Matt Ford’s opinion that the Stars are destined for the grand final was given further credence by a solid visiting performance, led by the magnificent Rory Schlein and the equally-impressive Lewis Kerr.
Before the action got under way, there was a minute’s applause for Malcolm Simmons, a popular rider at both clubs who died aged 68 on Sunday.
An easy 5-1 kicked off proceedings as Darcy Ward and Vaclav Milik – both due to ride in Saturday’s Czech Grand Prix – coasted to an awarded opening maximum.
Heat two was a from-the-gate affair in which the Stars’ Kerr showed just why he is such a hot property at reserve, the 24-year-old flying out of the traps and heading opposite number Kyle Newman in no-nonsense fashion.
Making a flying start to his Poole guest booking, Lewis Bridger roared from third to first inside two laps but behind him Shamek Pawlicki was reeled in by Schlein, restricting Poole to a 4-2.
Lynn replied with the simplest of 5-1s courtesy of Nicklas Porsing and Kerr, bringing them to within two points of their hosts heading into the first track grading. Bridger and Ward were hot on the tail on Schlein after the break but seemed to get in each other’s way as they attempted to pass the Stars man, before another 3-3 followed in heat six as Pawlicki triumphed.
A two-tier race developed next as Milik saw off young gun Robert Lambert, but at the rear, Poole reserve Ben Hopwood was overhauled by Stars guest Ben Morley.
Pirates were on a 5-1 when Porsing fell in heat eight and salt was rubbed in the wound on the re-run as Schlein spectacularly found the tightest of gaps between Pawlicki and Grajczonek coming out of the final bend of the first lap.
The best efforts of Hopwood were not enough to inch past Morley on the home straight in race nine, but Newman’s thumping win ensured a fifth shared heat in a row and a 28-26 scoreline in Pirates’ favour.
A ripper of a race followed as Schlein charged from fourth to first out of bend two, only for Ward to bite back instantly, before the 3-3 cycle was finally broken in heat 12, Pawlicki and Bridger combining to secure a from-the-gate 4-2.
Milik’s exclusion following a fall put the pressure on Newman to win the re-run and although the Poole-born racer gated, he lost speed due to a chain issue in the closing stages and Porsing and Kerr fortuitously racked up a maximum to bring it back to 36-36.
However, Ward and Bridger raised a roof with a 5-1 as the latter just about managed to keep Niels-Kristian Iversen at bay, despite losing speed on more than one occasion.
Grajczonek tried everything to get beyond frontrunner Kerr in heat 14 but the visiting reserve was not keen to let his grip on first spot slip, before a rollercoaster final outing deciding the meeting.
Ward was quickest out of the gate but a second-bend locker allowed the three other riders through and put Lynn on a 5-1. Iversen chose a timely moment for his first victory and there was no catching Schlein, who rounded off his impeccable evening with a second-place finish.
Pirates 44: 1 Darcy Ward (3-1*-3-3-1) 11+1, 2 Vaclav Milik (2*-3-0-fx) 5+1, 3 Shamek Pawlicki (1-3-2-3-0) 9, 4 Josh Grajczonek (1-0-1*-2) 4+1, 5 Lewis Bridger, guest (3-2-1-2*) 8+1, 6 Kyle Newman (2-0-3-1-0) 6, 7 Ben Hopwood (1*-0-0) 1+1. Team manager: Neil Middleditch.
Stars 46: 1 Niels-Kristian Iversen (1-1*-2-1-3) 8+1, 2 Nicklas Porsing (f-3-fx-3) 6, 3 Rory Schlein (2-3-3-2-2*) 12+1, 4 Robert Lambert (0-2-0-1) 3, 5 Kenneth Bjerre (0-2-1*-0) 3+1, 6 Lewis Kerr (3-2*-2-2*-3) 12+2, 7 Ben Morley, guest (0-1*-1*) 2+2. Team manager: Rob Lyon.
Ht 1 (awarded): Ward, Milik, Iversen, Porsing (fell), (5-1)
Ht 2: Kerr, Newman, Hopwood, Morley, 61.06 (8-4)
Ht 3: Bridger, Schlein, Pawlicki, Bjerre, 60.75 (12-6)
Ht 4: Porsing, Kerr, Grajczonek, Newman, 61.03 (13-11)
Ht 5: Schlein, Bridger, Ward, Lambert, 60.89 (16-14)
Ht 6: Pawlicki, Bjerre, Iversen, Grajczonek, 60.50 (19-17)
Ht 7: Milik, Lambert, Morley, Hopwood, 61.47 (22-20)
Ht 8 (re-run): Schlein, Pawlicki, Grajczonek, Porsing (fell/dsq), 61.20 (25-23)
Ht 9: Newman, Kerr, Morley, Hopwood, 62.19 (28-26)
Ht 10: Ward, Schlein, Bjerre, Milik, 60.81 (31-29)
Ht 11: Pawlicki, Iversen, Bridger, Lambert, 61.31 (35-31)
Ht 12 (re-run): Porsing, Kerr, Newman, Milik (fell/dsq), 61.81 (36-36)
Ht 13: Ward, Bridger, Iversen, Bjerre, 60.94 (41-37)
Ht 14: Kerr, Grajczonek, Lambert, Newman, 61.94 (43-41)
Ht 15: Iversen, Schlein, Ward, Pawlicki, 61.41 (44-46) Other results: Birmingham Brummies v Belle Vue Aces – postponed due to a waterlogged track.
Lewis Bridger was decent value in place of Maciej Janowski on a night where none of Poole’s riders had it their own way.
Brought in as a guest, Lakeside’s Bridger showed his 10 points for the Hammers at Wimborne Road on May 14 was no fluke.
He battled hard and earned his corn in bringing home a 5-1 maximum with Darcy Ward in heat 13.
Unfortunately for Poole, that was not enough to sink the league leaders.