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Elite League Grand Final: Pirates close in on the title
PROMOTER Matt Ford, writing in his programme notes for this meeting, used one of his favourite songs to sum up Pirates’ topsy-turvy season.
Harmful elements in the air, cymbals crashing everywhere – the opening line to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1978 hit Hong Kong Garden was his chosen number.
In the dark days of May, with Pirates languishing at the foot of the Elite League, Ford could have been forgiven for making reference to another apt tune – I Need A Miracle.
Tonight, in front of a packed house at Wimborne Road, he got one.
This awe-inspiring 57-36 trouncing of table-topping Birmingham left Pirates with one hand and three fingers on the silverware. In pursuit of an unprecedented fifth title and lining up in their fourth successive play-off grand final, Pirates were simply sensational.
Every member of Ford’s magnificent six delivered the goods, with double-figure returns from Greg Hancock, Darcy Ward and Josh Grajczonek backed up by Tomas H Jonasson, Maciej Janowski and local lad Kyle Newman.
While Birmingham will have left Dorset with their tails between their legs, the Brummies will also be thankful for a second chance in the second leg at Perry Barr on Monday. The skull and crossbones may have been flapping furiously but there was no sign of a white flag from the visitors.
The writing was on the wall from the off for the Brummies as Pirates made the perfect start when Ward and Jonasson teamed up for a maximum over Martin Smolinski and Josh Auty in the opener.
Grajczonek, the hero of Pirates’ semi-final second leg against Swindon, gated smartly and never looked troubled as he coasted to a facile win in heat two.
Hancock showed his class at the start of heat three, the two-times world champion slipping between Danny King and Ben Barker coming out of the pits turn to bag the points in heat three before Chris Harris recorded Birmingham’s first victory in heat four with Newman digging deep to claim second.
Grajczonek raised the roof when he followed home Hancock in heat five, prevailing after an epic duel for second place with Jason Doyle. There was no quarter given as the pair jousted like gladiators, with Grajczonek showing his mettle to eventually hold off his fellow countryman.
More fireworks followed in heat six when Ward’s canny manouvere on the first turn saw him dive hard under Chris Harris to gain a lead he would never surrender as Pirates extended to 10 their lead.
Danny King, out on a tactical in heat seven, took a heavy fall on the third turn of the first lap after Janowski had deprived him of the lead. And with King ruled out of the re-run, Pirates took the opportunity to forge 28-14 ahead with Grajczonek and Janowski pairing up to keep Ben Barker at bay.
Doyle reduced the arrears when he pegged back Jonasson and Newman to register a six-point tactical-ride win in heat eight, although Pirates probably would have taken a 6-3 reverse.
Another memorable battle ensued in heat nine with Harris finally wearing down Grajczonek following a thrilling cat-and-mouse exchange, although the Brummies still fell further behind as Hancock had first place as good as wrapped up from the tapes.
Ward completed his hat-trick of wins in heat 10 thanks to an imperious passing move which saw him sweep round the boards coming out of the first turn, with Jonasson staying close to ensure another maximum.
Although Doyle recorded his second win in heat 11, that man Grajczonek again took centre stage by pipping Smolinski to a point following a head-bobbing finish.
And while King’s win in heat 12 narrowed the deficit to 15, Janowski and Ward beat Smolinski and Harris into submission in the next by roaring to another maximum, Pirates’ fifth of the night. A 4-2 from Barker and Nicolas Covatti temporarily dulled the pain for the Brummies in the penultimate heat before Hancock and Ward combined to administer the coup de grâce in the finale.
And while Pirates supporters were singing from the rooftops, promoter Ford was left to ponder One More Night.
Elite League Grand Final, first leg heat details
Pirates 57: 1 Darcy Ward (3-3-3-2*-2*) 13+2, 2 Tomas H Jonasson (2*-1-2-2*-2) 9+2, 3 Greg Hancock (3-3-3-2-3) 14, 4 Rider Replacement for Rohan Tungate, 5 Maciej Janowski (1*-2*-2-3) 8+2, 6 Josh Grajczonek (3-0-2*-3-1-1*-0) 10+2, 7 Kyle Newman (guest) (0-2-1*-0) 3+1.
Team manager: Neil Middleditch.
Brummies 36: 1 Martin Smolinski (1-0-0-1) 2, 2 Jason Doyle (t-1-6^-3-1) 11, 3 Danny King (2-fx^-0-3-0) 5, 4 Ben Barker (1*-1-1-3) 6+1, 5 Chris Harris (3-2-2-0) 7, 6 Nicolas Covatti (1*-0-0-1-1) 3+1, 7 Josh Auty (0-2-r-0) 2.
Team manager: Phil Morris.
Referee: Craig Ackroyd.
Ht 1: (re-run) Ward, Jonasson, Smolinski, Auty, Doyle (tapes, excluded), 61.29 (5-1)
Ht 2: (re-run) Grajczonek, Auty, Covatti, Newman, 60.91 (8-4)
Ht 3: Hancock, King, Barker, Grajczonek, 60.69 (11-7)
Ht 4: Harris, Newman, Janowski, Auty (retired), 61.41 (14-10)
Ht 5: Hancock, Grajczonek, Doyle, Smolinski, 60.59 (19-11)
Ht 6: Ward, Harris, Jonasson, Covatti, 59.87 (23-13)
Ht 7: (re-run) Grajczonek, Janowski, Barker, King (tactical rider, fell, excluded), 60.75 (28-14)
Ht 8: Doyle (tactical rider, double points), Jonasson, Newman, Auty, 60.44 (31-20)
Ht 9: Hancock, Harris, Grajczonek, Covatti, 60.90 (35-22)
Ht 10: Ward, Jonasson, Barker, King, 60.37 (40-23)
Ht 11: Doyle, Janowski, Grajczonek, Smolinski, 60.31 (43-26)
Ht 12: King, Hancock, Covatti, Newman, 60.66 (45-30)
Ht 13: Janowski, Ward, Smolinski, Harris, 60.16 (50-31)
Ht 14: Barker, Jonasson, Covatti, Grajczonek, 61.41 (52-35)
Ht 15: Hancock, Ward, Doyle, King, 60.25 (57-36)
Echo star rider - Josh Grajczonek
Just when you thought gutsy Grajczonek had produced the performance of a lifetime in the semi-final, he arguably went one better in the main event.
The Aussie ace has already been promised a 2014 team place and that looks seriously astute business by Matt Ford.
Not only did the reserve deliver on the biggest stage in British domestic racing, he also earned his 10 paid 12-point haul in breathtaking style.
On any other night, top honours would have gone to the imperious Darcy Ward (13+2). The skipper brilliantly set the tone from the outset in a relentless performance of genuine world-class quality.
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