LAKESIDE promoter Jon Cook has defended his controversial decision to run tonight’s meeting against a Poole Pirates side missing five regular riders.

Pirates head to Purfleet (8pm) without Hans Andersen, Bjarne Pedersen (both riding in Denmark), Krzysztof Buczkowski (Polish Championship), Brady Kurtz (Grand Prix Challenge semi-final practice) and Kyle Newman (injured).

Poole boss Matt Ford has been forced to plug the gaps with Premier League riders with four other Elite League clubs running on the same night and potential stand-ins such as Freddie Lindgren and Joonas Kylmakorpi committed elsewhere.

Ford was understanding over Cook’s decision to stage the fixture but fans have slammed the move on social media.

But the Hammers chief, who confirmed Ford had flagged up the problem in January, insisted his hands were tied with every non-Grand Prix Friday taken.

Cook told the Daily Echo: “I haven’t got enough dates in my calendar to move this fixture. If I had, I would have. That’s the bottom line.

“We have had three dates moved, one for television and two for weather, taking up the only two rain-off dates we had.

“We had to take Swindon on the Friday before the World Cup, which we hadn’t planned to do, meaning our Swedish riders will have their practice for that competition curtailed.

“If this meeting was rained off, or any others for that matter, I would not know know where to put it. We would probably have to ask for an extension to the league season.

“It is disappointing but it is what it is.

“For us, this is a bigger deal because it is Poole. They have closed our seasons for the past three years and it has been beneficial for us financially. In the right circumstances, this meeting would have been moved to the first Friday in September.

“We looked at moving one of our home fixtures against the two teams that are not racing but we have hosted Leicester twice and Poole are racing at Coventry on the night we are scheduled to host Wolverhampton.

“We have exhausted every opportunity to try to move the fixture and have drawn a blank.

“The only other way around it would be to run on a Grand Prix Friday without Chris Holder and Andreas Jonsson, which nobody would want us to do.

“We have been in this situation before and other teams will be again. It is just the unfortunate result of British speedway sharing their riders with other federations.”

Meanwhile, Cook was dismissive of online critics, including supporters of both sides, who argued staging the fixture would be bad for speedway.

“I don’t care for the opinions of the few people that pour scorn on our sport at every single opportunity and I don’t take any notice of them,” he added.

“A couple of seasons ago, Matt cancelled a meeting against us as he didn’t have a good enough team to win. Social media was alight with people criticising him and it will be the same people criticising us for running.

“It is what that element do which is why I have no time for them or their opinions. I stay blissfully ignorant to all of that.”