PIRATES’ SGB Premiership title defence was left in tatters as they threw away a first-leg lead and were knocked out of the play-offs at Ipswich.

A 54-36 loss on the night at Foxhall was not enough for Neil Middleditch’s men to hold on, as the dominant hosts’ booked their place in the grand final 94-86.

Defending champions Pirates went into the contest with a 50-40 aggregate lead after a remarkable 10-point comeback victory at Wimborne Road on Thursday.

The visitors appeared to be on for a shared opener after Nico Covatti made the start ahead of Grand Prix rider Niels-Kristian Iversen and Cameron Heeps.

But the Argentinian’s bike packed up in dramatic fashion – gifting the Witches a 5-1 to reduce to six the aggregate deficit.

Poole’s lead was then cut to two with another one-two for the hosts.

After Jake Allen led from the gate in the reserves’ race, Ipswich’s James Sarjeant joined his team-mate after getting the better of a struggling Thomas H Jonasson.

But it was Poole’s reliable duo of Nicolai Klindt and Josh Grajczonek who settled the early nerves for Pirates.

After the Dane made a rapid start, skipper Grajczonek managed to join him ahead of Richard Lawson and Chris Harris for the visitors, to respond with a 5-1 of their own.

Back came the Witches again with another big one-two. This time Poole’s Jack Holder and Ricky Wells were out-gated by home skipper Danny King and Allen, the former taking the chequered flag.

That meant Ipswich led 16-8 on the night and only trailed by two across the two meetings.

But determined Covatti next time out managed to shake off his mechanical gremlins and enjoyed it out in front to claim heat five from the gate.

He was joined by Poole number one Brady Kurtz in second – as the sides continued to trade 5-1s.

It was then the turn of Iversen to dominate with Heeps as Poole suffered disaster in race seven.

Holder fell on the second bend of lap four, meaning the heat was stopped and Jonasson was awarded third.

Back swung the semi-final in Poole’s favour thanks once again to Klindt and Grajczonek. The experienced duo team rode expertly to overcome King and Sarjeant – King having hesitated at the start.

Ipswich once again responded with another 5-1 of their own in heat eight.

With Allen continuing his impressive night to seal victory, Heeps got the better of Covatti in a titanic battle for second to join his partner. That once again closed the visitors’ aggregate lead to just two.

Pirates were then hit with another blow.

Holder withdrew from the meeting with a foot problem following his earlier spill – meaning the injury rider replacement rule was used.

Klindt came in to replace him for heat nine – but the Outrup-born star was powerless to stop Harris passing him and moving into second to join Lawson out in front.

That meant another 5-1 for the hosts saw them go into the lead for the first time on aggregate.

With their backs against the wall, Pirates’ promising duo Klindt and Grajczonek managed to restore the visitors’ lead in the tie.

Klindt was gone from the gate for victory and was joined by the Poole skipper, who charged round the outside of Heeps to remarkably record the 10th 5-1 from as many heats.

Witches captain King was then comfortable leading home second-place Covatti. With Allen’s clever switch enough of see off Kurtz at the back, an Ipswich 4-2 meant with four heats remaining – the clash across both meetings was level at 78-78.

Danish star Klindt was once again keeping Poole in it with another electric start in heat 12.

But after Wells was passed by Harris, the American fell and hit the air-fence on the final lap – the shared race result stood.

It was Iversen and King who put Ipswich in the box seat after heat 13. The home skipper led from the front with the Dane in pursuit to record a 5-1 and put the Witches into a four-point aggregate advantage.

And it was in the penultimate heat that Ipswich confirmed their place in the final.

With Lawson out in front to seal victory ahead of Grajczonek, Sarjeant passed fellow reserve Wells to earn a 4-2 heat advantage and put the hosts in an unassailable six-point aggregate lead.

Captain King then overcame Covatti, with Klindt retiring to leave Iversen in third – as Pirates’ miserable night was compounded.