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Speedway: Pirates playing catch-up after 10-point defeat at Blunsdon
PIRATES were tonight left facing a major task in their attempts to secure an against-the-odds Elite League title following a 52-42 defeat at Swindon.
Poole gave themselves a glimmer of hope as star man Darcy Ward led a stirring late rally which cut the semi-final first leg deficit from 14 to eight points going into the final race.
However, a potentially crucial last-lap pass by Troy Batchelor on Maciej Janowski handed Swindon a heat advantage and secured a 10-point lead for the Robins going into next Monday’s return fixture.
Poole were second best for much of an absorbing showdown at Blunsdon as Neil Middleditch’s men had no answer to the defending champions’ consistency.
The Robins had defeated their familiar foes in last year’s grand final and it looked like the same outcome would be all but secured in front of a bumper crowd in Wiltshire.
Despite failing to provide any telling support for Ward and Maciej Janowski for long periods, Pirates refused to throw in the towel and dug deep as the big guns flexed their muscles in the closing stages.
But just when it looked as if Poole would leave their fierce rivals kicking themselves, Batchelor and Hans Andersen combined to give Swindon the upper hand.
Swindon boss Alun Rossiter, a lorry driver by profession, endured a nightmare start to the high-profile clash when he broke down en route to Wiltshire, only arriving shortly before tapes-up.
But despite the absence of their manager for the pre-meeting preparations, the Robins edged the early skirmishes and then relentlessly maintained the pace.
Ward brilliantly dived under Andersen before storming clear in a shared first race, with Janowski also taking the chequered flag in the fourth.
However, Swindon were 15-9 in front after that thanks to a Kyle Howarth-inspired 4-2 and a convincing maximum from Peter Kildemand and Nick Morris, who brilliantly battled past Rohan Tungate as Greg Hancock trailed a distant last.
With Tomas H Jonasson excluded, the scintillating Ward blitzed his rivals in heat five. But there was nowhere near enough support and the Robins rocketed into a useful 10-point lead thanks to a 5-1 from Edward Kennett and Andersen.
Already in a spot of bother, things got no better as tactical rider Hancock failed to stop a jet-propelled Batchelor in a far-from-ideal 4-4 for Pirates.
Having fought so impressively to earn a play-off place, Poole were in danger of leaving themselves too far adrift ahead of the second leg.
The eye-catching Kennett showed no mercy by easily fending off Jonasson and Grajczonek. And the situation only deteriorated for Poole when Morris produced a superb display to defy persistent Janowski before Andersen followed suit against Hancock as the Robins made it five heat advantages in 10 races.
Without a heat advantage and in need of something special, Pirates sent out their star man in search of double points. But Ward was left rooted at the start-line as Batchelor secured a potentially priceless win.
Hancock lived up to his big billing in the 12th heat, although Kildemand and Howarth minimised the damage.
But Pirates bagged their first 5-1 in heat 13 with Ward again the catalyst, helping Janowski lead a maximum which silenced the vocal home faithful.
Pirates trailed 48-40 after Poole asset Howarth won a shared 14th heat which saw Swindon ace Morris taken from the track by ambulance following a heavy last-lap fall.
And just when it looked as if Ward and Janowski would again combine to complete a stunning recovery, Andersen and Batchelor ensured Swindon had the final say.
Robins 52: 1 Hans Andersen (2-2*-3-0-3) 10+1, 2 Edward Kennett (1*-3-3-1) 8+1, 3 Peter Kildemand (3-2-1-2) 8, 4 Nick Morris (2*-1*-3-f) 6+2, 5 Troy Batchelor (2-3-3-1-1) 10, 6 Lewis Kerr (guest) (1-1-0) 2, 7 Kyle Howarth (3-1*-0-1*-3) 8+2. Team manager: Alun Rossiter.
Pirates 42: 1 Darcy Ward (3-3-4^-2*-2) 14+1, 2 Tomas H Jonasson (0-fx-2-1*) 3+1, 3 Greg Hancock (0-4^-2-3) 9, 4 Rohan Tungate (1-0-0-1*) 2+1, 5 Maciej Janowski (3-1-2-3-0) 9, 6 Josh Grajczonek (0-0-1*-0-2) 3+1, 7 Micky Dyer (2-0-0) 2. Team manager: Neil Middleditch.
Referee: Mike Posselwhite.
Ht 1: Ward, Andersen, Kennett, Jonasson, 66.86 (3-3)
Ht 2: Howarth, Dyer, Kerr, Grajczonek, 68.30 (7-5)
Ht 3: Kildemand, Morris, Tungate, Hancock, 68.57 (12-6)
Ht 4: Janowski, Batchelor, Howarth, Dyer, 67.83 (15-9)
Ht 5: (re-run) Ward, Kildemand, Morris, Jonasson (fell, excluded), 67.02 (18-12)
Ht 6: Kennett, Andersen, Janowski, Grajczonek, 67.27 (23-13)
Ht 7: Batchelor, Hancock (tactical rider, double points), Kerr, Tungate, 67.55 (27-17)
Ht 8: Kennett, Jonasson, Grajczonek, Howarth, 67.77 (30-20)
Ht 9: Morris, Janowski, Kildemand, Dyer 67.33 (34-22)
Ht 10: Andersen, Hancock, Kennett, Tungate, 68.59 (38-24)
Ht 11: Batchelor, Ward (tactical rider, double points), Jonasson, Kerr, 68.17 (41-29)
Ht 12: Hancock, Kildemand, Howarth, Grajczonek, 68.69 (44-32)
Ht 13: Janowski, Ward, Batchelor, Andersen, 68.24 (45-37)
Ht 14: (awarded) Howarth, Grajczonek, Tungate, Morris (fell) (48-40)
Ht 15: Andersen, Ward, Batchelor, Janowski, 67.80 (52-42)
Last night’s other semi-final first leg result: Wolverhampton 44 Birmingham Brummies 46.
Second legs: Monday, September 30
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