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Pirates: Ward to the fore as Poole battle back to forge ahead
PIRATES talisman Darcy Ward took centre stage last night as Poole produced yet another trademark late show to close in on a grand final place.
The Australian superstar delivered a brilliant 13 paid 14-point effort to lead the way in Pirates’ 47-43 play-off semi-final victory at Lakeside.
Ward – ably assisted by impressive duo Krzysztof Kasprzak and Ricky Kling – inspired Pirates’ latest comeback as the defending champions turned a four-point deficit into more-than-useful advantage.
And their six-heat surge down the home stretch could prove the defining moment of this last-four showdown as it will now take something extremely special for the Hammers to halt the progress of the title favourites.
Despite the eventual outcome, it looked for long periods that Pirates might have been left with a more difficult challenge in next Monday’s return leg.
Prior to this clash, Poole boss Neil Middleditch had warned that league positions would “count for nothing” after his men had topped the table during the regulation campaign.
His words carried weight as Lakeside refused to allow Poole to stamp their authority during a tight opening, where good gating proved an almost priceless commodity.
Luckless Lakeside had suffered a big setback prior to the meeting when they were forced to draft in guest Scott Nicholls after Davey Watt, who captained Poole last season, had been taken to hospital with a kidney problem.
Despite enduring plenty of misfortune with falls and retirements, the depleted hosts more than kept pace with Pirates early on before edging ahead during mid-meeting.
However, Pirates’ penchant for the late rally saved them again, although they were initially made to sweat.
Kim Nilsson got the Essex outfit off to a flyer when he defeated slow-starting birthday boy Chris Holder , only for Kling to return fire with a routine win of his own.
Scintillating Ward claimed a shared third race, with Kasprzak then roaring round the outside of Robert Mear to lead Linus Eklof to a heat advantage.
Kauko Nieminen and Peter Karlsson upped the ante by hammering home the first maximum of the night as they left Holder trailing by a surprising distance.
Kasprzak and Kling levelled matters at 18-18 before Ward and Piotr Pawlicki delivered a perfectly-timed maximum to put the visitors on the front foot.
But the pendulum immediately swung back in favour of the hosts as Robert Mear and Nilsson, then Karlsson and Nieminen, punished Pirates for running wide on the first turn to register successive maximums.
With a four-point deficit to overcome in the last six heats, Pirates were again left to rely on another powerhouse performance down the home straight.
A gutsy ride from Pawlicki saw him push his bike to the absolute limit as he used every inch of the track to hold off Nicholls for a crucial heat advantage behind Ward.
That laid the platform for Holder to defeat Karlsson and take his first chequered flag at the third time of asking.
Ward continued his stunning unbeaten display to pass Nieminen for a vital win, with Kling completing the 4-2 to tie the scores at 36-36.
Pirates then hit the front when Kasprzak and Holder registered a dominant maximum.
Kling and Pawlicki finished behind Mear to maintain the lead before the impressive Karlsson had the final say.
But Pirates were undoubtedly the happier of the teams as they exited Arena Essex Raceway, with only a major shock at Wimborne Road standing between them and a meeting with Birmingham or Swindon in the grand final.
Hammers 43: 1 Scott Nicholls (guest) (1-2-0-1) 4, 2 Kim Nilsson (3-f-0-2*-2) 7+1, 3 Kauko Nieminen (2-3-fx-2*-2) 9+1, 4 Peter Karlsson (1*-2*-3-2-r-3) 11+2, 5 Rider Replacement for Jonas Davidsson, 6 Justin Sedgmen (2-1-0) 3, 7 Robert Mear (r-2-3-1*-f-3) 9+1.
Team manager: Neil Vatcher.
Pirates 47: 1 Chris Holder (2-1-3-2*) 8+1, 2 Sam Masters (0-0-0) 0, 3 Darcy Ward (3-3-3-3-1*) 13+1, 4 Piotr Pawlicki (0-2*-1-1*) 4+2, 5 Krzysztof Kasprzak (3-3-1-3-2) 12, 6 Ricky Kling (3-1-1-0-1-2) 8, 7 Linus Eklof (1-1-0) 2.
Team manager: Neil Middleditch.
Referee: Dan Holt .
Ht 1: Nilsson, Holder, Nicholls, Masters, 58.5 (4-2) Ht 2: Kling, Sedgmen, Eklof, Mear (retired), 58.9 (6-6) Ht 3: Ward, Nieminen, Karlsson, Pawlicki, 58.6 (9-9) Ht 4: Kasprzak, Mear, Eklof, Nilsson (fell), 59.3 (11-13) Ht 5: Nieminen, Karlsson, Holder, Masters, 58.4 (16-14) Ht 6: Kasprzak, Nicholls, Kling, Nilsson, 58.3 (18-18) Ht 7: (re-run) Ward, Pawlicki, Sedgmen, Nieminen (fell, excluded), 59.2 (19-23) Ht 8: Mear, Nilsson, Kling, Eklof, 59.7 (24-24) Ht 9: Karlsson, Nieminen, Kasprzak, Kling, 58.6 (29-25) Ht 10: Ward, Nilsson, Pawlicki, Nicholls, 58.6 (31-29) Ht 11: Holder, Karlsson, Mear, Masters, 58.7 (34-32) Ht 12: Ward, Nieminen, Kling, Mear (fell), 58.9 (36-36) Ht 13: Kasprzak, Holder, Nicholls, Sedgmen, 59.7 (37-41) Ht 14: Mear, Kling, Pawlicki, Karlsson (retired), 60.0 (40-44) Ht 15: Karlsson, Kasprzak, Ward, Nieminen, 58.5 (43-47) Last night’s other Elite League play-off semi-final, first leg: Birmingham Brummies v Swindon Robins – postponed, waterlogged track.