IT WAS Groundhog Day for Poole Pirates whose sturdy grip on the Elite League trophy slipped somewhat during the last three heats of a rollercoaster 46-46 draw at Belle Vue.

In the last meeting at Kirkmanshulme Lane, Pirates stunned the bumper crowd by racing into a 13-point lead after six races and still led by 10 with just three races to go.

But like their eight-point cushion at Coventry, Poole’s lead evaporated at the death, although parity ahead of the second leg at Wimborne Road tomorrow undoubtedly keeps the Dorset club on course for its third straight top-flight crown.

Much like the trip to Brandon, Pirates would have snatched your arm off for a draw before the tapes were raised for the first time but the battling qualities displayed by Belle Vue’s leading lights Matej Zagar and Craig Cook has kept the light flickering at the end of a dark tunnel for the Aces.

Strong away displays generally require strong scorelines to be shared round and this was no exception with Chris Holder leading the way, the returning Dakota North on song and another points-filled performance from reserve duo Kyle Newman and Paul Starke.

Max Fricke gated in the opener but got reined in by Holder before wobbling in front of Davey Watt, allowing Zagar to steal second in a shared heat.

Pirates were granted a five-point lead in the fourth running of heat two with Steve Worrall and Stefan Nielsen excluded for falls during the previous attempts.

Cook gated well in the third with Janowski surprisingly having to battle from the back to take third behind Dakota North.

Surprise second-stringer Scott Nicholls followed suit for the Aces but Neilsen’s second shocker allowed Kacper Gomolski through to support Newman in another 3-3 as Pirates held on to their lead.

Fricke again made the gate in race four but was unable to prevent Watt and Starke steaming round either side of him at the end of the second turn with Worrall nowhere to be seen in a Pirates 5-1.

The home frustration grew when Nicholls suffered a 15-metre penalty for jumping the start, much to the ire of the Mancunian crowd, which was not abated when Holder blitzed out of the traps before allowing Maciej Janowski to hit the front.

The Pole seemed to hit a rut but held his nerve for another maximum as Belle Vue looked to have blown their first final in 10 years before it had got going.

Grand Prix star Zagar was sent out in the black and white helmet but referee Graham Flint further angered the Kirkmanshulme Lane faithful, controversially excluding Cook for a first-turn fall when all four riders appeared to be bunched together.

Zagar kept his composure to glide past North in the re-run but with Gomolski in third, Poole’s advantage was still 10 points after Aces had played their trump card.

Nicholls started well and stretched his lead throughout heat eight but received no backing from Nielsen.

There was a moment of concern for Pirates when Gomolski thundered into the airfence on lap three of race nine. He eventually walked away, albeit gingerly, with the awarded result going to Newman.

The hosts trimmed their deficit to eight courtesy of a stellar ride from last to first by Cook, zooming past Watt and team-mate Grajczonek by the end of the first lap before passing Holder on the final bend of the third.

Zagar and Fricke streaked clear in heat 11 but North made a nuisance of himself throughout, almost reining in his rival on three occasions before stealing second from Fricke right at the death. The off-colour Janowski brought up the rear.

There was a frantic start to the second reserve heat for Newman, removing his goggles and jumping on his bike within a second of the two minutes before hitting back from a shaky start to claim second behind the unstoppable Starke.

However, Belle Vue hit straight back from Poole’s fourth maximum of the night in a thrilling heat 13 won by the flying Cook with Zagar zipping up the inside of Holder.

Starke then stepped in for the injured Gomolski but Grajczonek and Nicholls eased to an Aces 5-1, cutting to two points Poole’s lead ahead of the nominated heat, despite a spirited effort from North.

Holder and North were sent out for the final race and the 2012 world champion crucially split winner Cook and third-placed Zagar to ensure matters would be all square ahead of tomorrow’s showpiece second leg at Wimborne Road.


On a night that saw Belle Vue’s top two perform admirably and usually reliable Poole skipper Maciej Janowski have a rare stinker, Holder’s contribution was vital in what should be a title-winning result. 

The Aussie ace had not scored particularly well at Kirkmanshulme Lane this season, so to pull a 10 paid 11 out of the bag was massive, for himself and the team. 

When the chips are down, the legend always delivers.


Belle Vue 46: 1 Matej Zagar (2-6-3-2*-1) = 14+1 2 Max Fricke (1*-1-1*-1) = 4+2, 3 Josh Grajczonek (0-1-1-3) = 5, 4 Scott Nicholls (3-0-3-2*) = 8+1, 5 Craig Cook (3-fx-3-3-3) = 12, 6 Steve Worrall (fx-0-2-0) = 2, 7 Stefan Nielsen (fx-0-0-1) = 1. Team manager: Mark Lemon.

Poole Pirates 46: 1 Chris Holder (3-2*-2-1-2) = 10+1, 2 Davey Watt (0-3-2-0) = 5, 3 Dakota North (2-2-2-1-0) = 7, 4 Kacper Gomolski (1*-1*-fx) = 2+1, 5 Maciej Janowski (1*-3-0-0) = 4+1, 6 Paul Starke (3-2*-1*-3-0) = 9+2, 7 Kyle Newman (2*-2-3-2*) = 9+2. Team manager: Neil Middleditch.

Referee: Graham Flint.


Ht 1: Holder, Zagar, Fricke, Watt, (3-3) 3-3
Ht 2: (re-run) Starke, Newman, Nielsen (fx), Worrall (fx), (0-5) 3-8
Ht 3: Cook, North, Janowski, Grajczonek, (3-3) 6-11
Ht 4: Nicholls, North, Gomolski, Nielsen, (3-3) 9-14
Ht 5: Watt, Starke, Fricke, Worrall, (1-5) 10-19
Ht 6: Holder, Janowski, Grajczonek, Nicholls (tapes, 15m) (1-5) 11-24
Ht 7: Zagar (t/r), North, Gomolski, Fricke, Cook, (6-3) 17-27
Ht 8: Nicholls, Watt, Starke, Nielsen, (3-3) 20-30
Ht 9: (awarded) Newman, Worrall, Fricke, Gomolski (fx), (3-3) 23-33
Ht 10: Cook, Holder, Grajczonek, Watt, (4-2) 27-35 
Ht 11: Zagar, North, Fricke, Janowski, (4-2) 31-37   
Ht12: Starke, Newman, Nielsen, Worrall, (1-5) 32-42
Ht 13: Cook, Zagar, Holder, Janowski, (5-1) 37-43
Ht 14: Grajczonek, Nicholls, North, Starke, (5-1) 42-44
Ht 15: Cook, Holder, Zagar, North, (4-2) 46-46