THE buzz round Wimborne Road said it all. Poole Pirates fans have started to feel the winds of change in this season’s Elite League title race.
Okay, championship heavyweights King’s Lynn might have picked up one of the points their hosts desired, but the manner in which Neil Middleditch’s charges won 48-42 without producing their A game proved Pirates’ challenge should not be dismissed.
When the Stars pouched three points in Dorset during their record-breaking run of 14 consecutive wins, the prospect of Poole troubling them in a two-legged final seemed fanciful.
Eight weeks later, though, and Norfolk’s big guns were not as imposing. The bruises of their two bumps on the road and a dropped point at home to struggling Leicester were exposed despite Polish pair Shamek Pawlicki and Maciej Janowski suffering a frustrating evening.
It didn’t go all Poole’s way, but a bucket load of courage from the likes of Kyle Newman and the man who makes you cringe on every corner, Vaclav Milik, proved that this young side’s imperfections need not prove a barrier to success.
Poole came close to the perfect start but having gated well, Josh Grajczonek was overtaken by Grand Prix star Niels-Kristian Iversen on the final lap as Darcy Ward took the opening plaudits.
Newman kicked off by bursting between Stars’ stellar fast-track pairing Lewis Kerr and Lewis Rose to take the opening reserve race with his fastest time of the season at Wimborne Road.
In a rip-roaring start to heat three, Kenneth Bjerre was neck-and-neck with Pawlicki but the Poole man fell away to hand the visitors their first maximum of the evening.
Milik responded in customary fashion with a flying start which left rivals Porsing and Kerr in the dust once more but new boy Brendan Johnson struggled and the points were shared.
Ward cruised round for three points in heat five closely followed by a resurgent Janowski who held off a late charge from Rory Schlein to swing the pendulum back in the hosts’ favour.
A flat tyre caused Bjerre to miss the two-minute call in heat six before a nasty first-bend spill saw Pawlicki briefly trapped under the air fence. He recovered to put on a performance packed with zeal alongside Milik but Iversen won to take a share of the spoils.
Up stepped Newman, storming his way to second via the outside line to raise the roof with a show of steely determination, remaining unbeaten by an opponent in six heats on home shale behind Grajczonek.
Milik could have few complaints about his exclusion after a madcap ride in heat eight ended with a crash but Pawlicki won the re-run to protect Poole’s lead.
Johnson laboured out of the gate again and comrade Newman’s remarkable run ended as Kerr and Rose pouched five points in the second reserve heat before Schlein plotted a clever route round the outside of Ward to level the scores at the interval.
A mechanical fault scuppered Janowski’s quest in heat 11 and Pawlicki could not contain Lambert and Iversen as Stars regained their lead with the fastest heat time of the night.
But that man Newman was in no mood to throw in the towel and bravely battled his way to victory having gone shoulder-to-shoulder with Porsing from the start to claw two back for Pirates.
Bjerre made the most of Ward’s slow start in heat 13 to maintain the visitors’ edge but the lead switched hands for the fifth and decisive time when the majestic Milik was supported by the defiance of in-form Newman, their maximum rocking the grand old Wimborne Road stand to its core.
That set up a final-heat decider and with Poole two to the good, Middleditch threw a curved ball by putting forward Milik to partner Ward against Iversen and Schlein.
And in a thrilling finale, the crowd were on their feet once more after it was ruled that Iversen had run Milik wide resulting in the Dane’s exclusion, a decision which sealed the result.
The academic re-run was fittingly won by Milik as Poole clearly signalled their intent – this title race is going all the way.
Pirates 48: 1 Darcy Ward (3-3-2-2-2*) 12+1, 2 Josh Grajczonek (1-3-0-1) 5, 3 Shamek Pawlicki (1-2-3-1) 7, 4 Vaclav Milik (3-1*-fx-3-3) 10+1, 5 Maciej Janowski (0-2*-0-1*) 3+2, 6 Brendan Johnson (0-0-0) 0, 7 Kyle Newman (3-2*-1-3-2*) 11+2. Team manager: Neil Middleditch.
King’s Lynn 42: 1 Niels-Kristian Iversen (2-3-2*-0-x) 7+1, 2 Nicklas Porsing (0-2-1*-2) 5+1, 3 Rory Schlein (2*-1-2-3-1) 9+1, 4 Robert Lambert (0-0-3-1) 4, 5 Kenneth Bjerre (3-x-1-3) 7, 6 Lewis Rose (1*-0-2*-0) 3+2, 7 Lewis Kerr (2-1*-1-3-0) 7+1. Team manager: Rob Lyon.
Ht 1: Ward, Iversen, Grajczonek, Porsing 60.16 (4-2)
Ht 2: Newman, Kerr, Rose, Johnson 60.94 (7-5)
Ht 3: Bjerre, Schlein, Pawlicki, Janowski 60.47 (8-10)
Ht 4: Milik, Porsing, Kerr, Johnson 60.53 (11-13)
Ht 5: Ward, Janowski, Schlein, Lambert 60.06 (16-14)
Ht 6: (re-run) Iversen, Pawlicki, Milik, Rose (Bjerre, 2mins) 60.75 (19-17)
Ht 7: Grajczonek, Newman, Kerr, Lambert 61.10 (24-18)
Ht 8: (re-run) Pawlicki, Schlein, Porsing, Milik (fell, excluded) 61.12 (27-21)
Ht 9: Kerr, Rose, Newman, Johnson 61.40 (28-26)
Ht 10: Schlein, Ward, Bjerre, Grajczonek 60.12 (30-30)
Ht 11: Lambert, Iversen, Pawlicki, Janowski (retired) 59.97 (31-35)
Ht 12: Newman, Porsing, Grajczonek, Kerr 61.28 (35-37)
Ht 13: Bjerre, Ward, Janowski, Iversen 60.12 (38-40)
Ht 14: Milik, Newman, Lambert, Rose 62.15 (43-41)
Ht 15: (re-run) Milik, Ward, Schlein, Iversen (excluded) 61.31 (48-42)
ECHO RIDER OF THE NIGHT - KYLE NEWMAN
ON A night where some scored well and others wowed the crowd, Poole’s favourite son produced both and played a crucial part in a result which could yet shift the momentum in this year’s title race.
Kings Lynn’s respected reserve partnership had no answer as Newman flew out of the traps in a heat two performance which set the tone for evening.
Speedy and stubborn, he simply refused to allow Kerr past before another rousing display saw off more senior riders Nicklas Porsing and team-mate Josh Grajczonek.
But the coup de grace was his support for Vaclav Milik in a match-winning heat 14, proof the local boy’s courage has started to transform into real promise.