KING’S Lynn Stars may be shining brightly at the Elite League summit but champions Poole Pirates simply refuse to allow their crown to slip.
Having ended May with three consecutive defeats – two on home territory – and a number of injury concerns, Neil Middleditch’s men were nip and tuck with the play-off pack behind the table-toppers from Norfolk.
But fast forward five weeks and any lingering worries over a repeat of last year’s nightmare start have been banished in some style.
Maximum returns from home meetings with Leicester and Birmingham were undoubtedly a prerequisite for the Poole faithful, but those comfortable successes have reinvigorated the smiles emblazoned across the faces of this plucky young team.
If the end of Eastbourne’s 16-match winning home run last Friday was a clear signal of intent, then the shackling of world champion Tai Woffinden and his Wolves colleagues provided further evidence that Pirates have every chance of matching the dominant Stars.
Woffinden scored well but had no answer for Darcy Ward’s paid maximum, while tenacious tearaway Vaclav Milik again ripped through the shale without a care in the world and Josh Grajczonek returned to his early-season form.
In a rip-roaring start, Grajczonek and Ward put on a superb team display to hold off Woffinden and open Poole’s account with a maximum.
Kyle Newman ensured a share of the spoils in the first reserve heat of the night, taking the inside line to lead throughout before Wolves rider Piotr Pawlicki pounced upon an early mistake from sibling Shamek to take heat three.
Milik cruised round in customary fashion to take the flag by a distance in heat four but the points were shared once more as Ben Hopwood fell away after a bright start.
The fifth race was no contest as Janowski and Ward left rivals Ricky Wells and Jacob Thorssell in a cloud of dust to double Pirates’ lead but the roles were swiftly reversed.
Milik’s fearless pursuit of Piotr Pawlicki was in vain as Woffinden stamped his authority in front with Shamek Pawlicki at the back of the field.
Grajczonek was hot on the heels of Wells throughout heat seven but just missed out on adding to Poole’s cushion as Newman registered an important point in a shared showdown.
Pirates reaped the rewards of Shamek Pawlicki’s determination to put right his rough start as the Pole supported another showstopper from Milik, the Czech drawing dramatic gasps from the crowd en route to a third Poole maximum.
Wolves reserve Tom Perry’s strong evening continued when he outfoxed Newman on the first bend of heat nine with Jacobs close behind as the visitors hit straight back.
But the imperious Ward was in no mood to let up and made up for a sluggish gate by sprinting round his opponents with ease in heat 10.
His effort was backed up by Grajczonek as Wolves pair Thorsell and Piotr Pawlicki nearly wiped out one another in their chase of the Aussie duo.
Woffinden kept Wolves in contention with a precision ride in heat 11, the Pirates crowd recognising his credentials with a warm ripple of applause but Poole flexed their muscles as the consistent Grajczonek bagged his first race victory of the evening.
In a thrilling 13th heat, Janowski was shoulder to shoulder with Woffinden before Ward ultimately passed the world champion, though Piotr Pawlicki outmanoeuvred Janowski to steal third.
With victory assured but the destiny of the third league point undecided, Wolves sent out the in-form Perry to no avail as steady scorer Newman occupied Wells and Milik left the rest trailing in his wake to settle the outcome.
Hearts were in mouths when Ward hit the deck in the academic 15th race, and while Poole’s skipper was eligible to return for the re-run, Grajczonek was sent out as a precaution.
Wolves heat leaders Piotr Pawlicki and Woffinden saw off the home side’s middle order but it mattered not, the message reverberated loud and clear.
Look out King’s Lynn, the champions are hitting their stride.
Pirates 49: 1 Darcy Ward (3-2*-3-3-w) 11+1, 2 Josh Grajczonek (2*-2-2*-3-1) 10+2, 3 Shamek Pawlicki (2-0-2*-1*) 5+2, 4 Vaclav Milik (3-1-3-3) 10, 5 Maciej Janowski (1*-3-2-0) 6+1, 6 Ben Hopwood (0-0-0) 0, 7 Kyle Newman (3-1*-1-1-1) 7+1. Team manager: Neil Middleditch.
Wolves 41: 1 Tai Woffinden (1-3-3-2-2*) 9+2, 2 Ty Proctor (0- 1*-0-0) 1+1, 3 Jacob Thorssell (0-0-1-1) 2, 4 Ricky Wells (1-3-0-2) 6, 5 Piotr Pawlicki (3-2*-0-1*-3) 6+1, 6 Joe Jacobs (2-f-2*-2) 6+1, 7 Tom Perry (1*-2-3-0) 6+1. Team manager: Peter Adams.
Ht 1: Ward, Grajczonek, Woffinden, Proctor 61.53 (5-1)
Ht 2: Newman, Jacobs, Perry, Hopwood (fell/remounted) 62.16 (8-4)
Ht 3: Pi Pawlicki, Pr Pawlicki, Janowski, Thorssell 60.65 (11-7)
Ht 4: Milik, Perry, Proctor, Hopwood 60.90 (14-10)
Ht 5: Janowski, Ward, Wells, Thorssell 60.47 (19-11)
Ht 6: Woffinden, Pi Pawlicki, Milik, Pr Pawlicki 60.44 (20-16)
Ht 7: Wells, Grajczonek, Newman, Jacobs (fell/remounted, retired) 61.37 (23-19)
Ht 8: Milik, Pr Pawlicki, Thorssell, Proctor 60.65 (28-20)
Ht 9: Perry, Jacobs, Newman, Hopwood 62.09 (29-25)
Ht 10: Ward, Grajczonek, Thorssell, Pi Pawlicki 61.47 (34-26)
Ht 11: Woffinden, Janowski, Pr Pawlicki, Wells 61.22 (37-29)
Ht 12: Grajczonek, Jacobs, Newman, Proctor 62.13 (41-31)
Ht 13: Ward, Woffinden, Pi Pawlicki, Janowski 60.68 (44-34)
Ht 14: Milik, Wells, Newman, Perry 61.35 (48-36)
Ht 15: (re-run) Pi Pawlicki, Woffinden, Grajczonek, Milik (Ward withdrew) 60.75 (49-41)
League points: Poole Pirates 3 Wolverhampton Wolves 0.
Tonight’s other result: King’s Lynn 61 Coventry 31.
STAR RIDER: VACLAV MILIK
THE Czech rookie simply cannot stop wowing the crowd.
Oxygen in the stand at Wimborne Road was in short supply again as Milik blew away his opponents with 10 precious points.
Pegged back only by Wolverhampton’s top dogs, Poole’s rough diamond refused to stand on ceremony as he left his rivals – and frequently his team-mates – with no response.
Neil Middleditch recently admitted he found it hard to watch Milik’s stunt-like shows.
Cover those eyes, Neil. This kid isn’t slowing down any time soon.