PIRATES’ chances of topping the Elite League table suffered a huge setback after they ended their Bank Holiday Monday trips to Belle Vue and Leicester empty-handed.

The defending champions went down 49-41 in Manchester at lunchtime before crashing to a shock 52-38 defeat at the hands of basement club Leicester last night.

While their visit to the National Speedway Stadium was always expected to be tough, their trip to the Lions den was a must-win against a club plagued by problems on and off the track.

Their day took a dramatic turn for the worse when Aussie ace Chris Holder was forced out of the second match with a migraine, brought on by toothache.

The 2012 world champion racked up a solid 10 points at Kirkmanshulme Lane and would have surely accrued more at Beaumont Park.

Instead, Poole were forced to head to Leicester with Holder’s compatriot Max Fricke of Belle Vue standing in at number one.

While he has enjoyed a sensational season across Europe, he was involved in an incident which dashed Poole’s hopes of collecting a share of the spoils.

Fricke reportedly lost control in heat six, taking Pirates skipper Hans Andersen down with him.

The crash ruled the Dane out of the rest of the meeting with a hand injury and instant rider replacement was used to cover for him, with Krzysztof Buczkowski bagging two points in the re-run and Bjarne Pedersen and Brady Kurtz winning their extra races.

Pedersen was by far Pirates’ star man at Leicester, powering to 14 paid 17 points from seven rides at reserve.

It was the ideal return to a club where he endured a brief and unhappy stint last season and a marked improvement on the four points he managed at Belle Vue.

Fricke collected two points from his final two races to end up on three – a score Sydneysider Holder would surely have comfortably bettered had he been fit to race.

Pirates’ lack of muscle in the heat leader berths was evident in Manchester, with Andersen managing only six paid seven and Buczkowski collecting just four paid five on a big, fast track which should have suited his hard-charging style.

That problem was exacerbated by the loss of Holder and Andersen at Leicester with Buczkowski scoring just six at his old home club.