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Pirates: There's no stopping Rosco's Robins winning Elite crown
AS Alun Rossiter shed tears of joy, a small group of Pirates supporters made their way to the exits.
Whether heading to the bar to drown their sorrows or simply unable to watch, it had been that sort of night.
In truth, it had been that sort of grand final. Nothing about this second leg had followed Poole’s script with Swindon securing a 95-89 aggregate win despite losing 45-44 on the night.
The tale of woe started long before the tapes had risen. Unfortunately for the reigning champions, there had been an air of inevitability about their dethroning once Pirates king Darcy Ward had been ruled out.
Having been hospitalised with his well-documented head injury, Ward’s absence left a huge hole in Pirates’ one-to-seven.
Put simply, there was no available replacement capable of filling the void left by the inspirational number one.
Added to the broken leg suffered by Dennis Andersson and the shoulder injury sustained by his stand-in Piotr Pawlicki, the odds had been firmly stacked against Poole in the closing stages of the campaign.
But while that chain of events did absolutely nothing to enhance Pirates’ chances of overturning the seven-point deficit they conceded in the first leg, this Swindon team deserve all the credit that will now come their way.
Without a top-flight championship since 1967, Rossiter’s Robins were worthy winners. Aside from tactical victories from Pirates’ superb Turbo Twins Chris Holder and Ward, the Wiltshire outfit would have virtually had the title in the bag after the initial showdown at Blunsdon.
Thoroughly dominant for much of the two play-off ties, Swindon never looked like missing their big chance to make history as they stormed the Wimborne Road fortress.
Inspired by the ever reliable Holder and Krzysztof Kasprzak, Pirates produced a late flourish to win the meeting, but it was far too late to deny Swindon a deserved aggregate victory.
Many had predicted a classic but with the depleted nature of the home line-up and tricky damp surface, that never unfolded as Swindon took control.
Pirates were desperately in need of putting down an early marker but their huge task became even more mountainous when they endured a nightmare start with three successive defeats.
Simon Stead made the gate to hold off Ward’s replacement Chris Harris, drafted in at late notice after original guest Niels-Kristian Iversen had been dramatically grounded in Poland, and lead home an opening heat 4-2.
The poor conditions were underlined when both Dawid Lampart and the disappointing Ludvig Lindgren failed to hold on in a second race won by Seb Alden from Linus Eklof, the time of 64.15 reflecting the state of the surface.
Ten points down on aggregate, even world champion Holder could not reduce the deficit as he and Ricky Kling were forced to settle for minor points behind the impressive Peter Kildemand.
Billed as a classic in the lead-up, the fireworks had still not arrived by heat four with passing opportunities at a premium. Again from tapes to flag, Kasprzak finally got the hosts on the board in a shared heat.
The writing was on the wall once Andersen had left Holder at the gate as the Australian ace could not find a route past his rival as Robins opened up a commanding 68-56 lead.
With just one victory and, more importantly, no heat advantages, Pirates had failed to establish what could have been the crucial early momentum.
But after Lampart had been excluded from the re-run of race six, Harris fired under Troy Batchelor to spark jubilant scenes as he led Kling to a much-needed Pirates 4-2.
Aside from the minority of red and white among a packed crowd, Wimborne Road fell silent as the rapid Kildemand immediately returned fire for the Robins by blasting past Kasprzak.
After Stead had stormed past Eklof, Pirates looked in serious trouble at 77-65 adrift with time fast running out.
Holder registered his first win and, together with the solid Eklof, handed the hosts a timely 4-2.
That raised expectations among a home crowd used to seeing stirring comebacks from the men in skull and crossbones. In need of a storming finish even by their remarkable standards, Poole remained 10 points behind.
But, in the absence of Ward, it never truly looked like arriving. The hugely impressive Kildemand rocketed from the gate and once he had been joined by Nick Morris, the Robins had hammered home a huge 5-1.
The Swindon lead now stood at 14 points and the glum faces in the Wimborne Road grandstand told the story.
Inspirational Andersen and superb Stead did little to lift the Poole spirits as Swindon dominated heat 11 – leaving Pirates needing a miracle run of maximums.
As he has done so often this year, Holder did his bit by dishing out a first defeat to Kildemand. But it was not enough as Swindon, solid throughout their consistent line-up, secured a 3-3 and, with it, their first top-flight title for 45 years.
The victorious Robins celebrated wildly on the shale in front of their jubilant supporters on turn two. As the overwhelmed Rossiter shed tears of joy, the contrast was stark with a minority of Pirates fans leaving with their depleted team well beaten.
Now riding merely for pride, Kasprzak and Harris delivered Pirates’ first 5-1 of the contest. Kasprzak took another chequered flag in heat 14 before completing a hat-trick in a maximum final-heat success alongside Holder. But, this time, the charge was way too late.
It has been another fine season for Pirates but the night – and with it the campaign – belonged to Swindon, their raucous travelling support and the emotional Rossiter.
Pirates 45: 1 Chris Harris (guest) (2-3-1-2*) 8+1, 2 Ricky Kling (0-1*-1-1*-0) 3+2, 3 Chris Holder (2-2-3-3-2*) 12+1, 4 Rider Replacement for Piotr Pawlicki, 5 Krzysztof Kasprzak (3-2-2-3-3-3) 16, 6 Ludvig Lindgren (f-0-0-0-1) 1, 7 Linus Eklof (2-0-2-1-0) 5. Team manager: Neil Middleditch.
Robins 44: 1 Hans Andersen (1-3-3-x-0) 7, 2 Simon Stead (3-1-3-1) 8, 3 Peter Kildemand (3-3-3-2-1) 12, 4 Nick Morris (0-1-2*-2) 5+1, 5 Troy Batchelor (2-2-2-1) 7, 6 Dawid Lampart (f-fx-0) 0, 7 Seb Alden (3-1*-0-1*-0) 5+2. Team manager: Alun Rossiter.
Referee: Peter Clarke.