NEIL Middleditch probably knows a little about how Andy Murray and the England football team feel, as Poland simply stared in the face of immense British expectation and laughed at it last night.

Tomasz Gollob’s men are speedway’s equivalent of Rafael Nadal and the Germans, for despite a positive start at King’s Lynn, Middlo was both defeated on penalties and beaten in four sets.

There can be no question Pirates’ manager has worked wonders underpinning the shaky foundations of Team GB.

Both Scott Nicholls and Chris Harris weren’t even going to ride in the World Cup until the Dorset man got involved. Indeed, Middleditch’s first job was trying to come up with enough riders to form a team.

He did that and some of his selections truly shined at the Norfolk Arena last night.

But the performances of Harris, Edward Kennett and, to an extent Tai Woffinden, were too little too late and the race-off against Sweden, Australia and Russia now beckons on Thursday.

Middlo’s punt, Ben Barker, did not pay off, but his poor form did lead to Harris coming in as a substitute in race 14.

By this point, Great Britain were under real pressure behind the runaway Poles, with four-man Russia closing in behind them in third place.

But Harris completed the race of the night to edge out world champion Gollob on the line after tearing around the outside of the Polish captain on the final turn.

It was stunning from Harris and should have galvanised Middleditch’s men, but they were simply too far behind – trodden into the shale by seven straight heat wins for the World Cup holders earlier in the meeting.

Woffinden was excluded twice in his first two races, while Nicholls fell in heat eight after Middleditch had played his tactical joker early in a bid to claw back the deficit.

It was all going wrong for Great Britain and with the Polish bottom order of Janusz Kolodziej and Krzysztof Kasprzak shining under Gollob and Jarek Hampel, a comeback looked unlikely.

Hampel got the better of Harris in heat 15, right in the middle of Great Britain’s purple patch, following ugly scenes between the Dryml brothers, Woffinden and Barker.

Lukas Dryml had been excluded for wiping out Harris, leaving just the Belle Vue man and world number two Hampel in the second re-run.

Wolves star Woffinden, however, did get the better of Hampel in heat 18, before Harris picked up three points in front of Kolodziej in race 19.

Middleditch’s men were 10 points adrift at that stage and, in truth, it was all over in terms of automatic progression to Gorzow on Saturday.

But Great Britain’s performance in the second half of the meeting should be enough for Middleditch’s race-off team talk to remain limited, although the Pirates manager would admit, privately at least, that Australia and Sweden have to be the favourites to progress at the second time of asking.

• Pirates reserve Renat Gafurov scored six points as Russia edged out the Czech Republic to reach Thursday’s race-off.

• Scores: Poland 62; Great Britain 49; Russia 21; Czech Republic 20.