EASTBOURNE 54 SWINDON 37: Gustafsson a shining light in lost cause
AHEAD of Saturday’s trip to Eastbourne, Robins boss Alun Rossiter admitted simply coming away with a losing bonus point would be something of a miracle but, despite a timely, stunning, display from Simon Gustafsson, there was never likely to be any divine intervention.
In truth the meeting was lost before the first clutch was dropped at Arlington, with Peter Kildemand’s absence meaning Premier League guest Justin Sedgmen was always going to be one passenger too many. And so it proved as the Australian failed to score from his four rides while young reserve Nathan Greaves also didn’t trouble the scorers on a night where he fell three times as he continues to learn the ropes.
Following a shared opening heat the hosts claimed advantages from the next six races to all but end the contest and, by the end of heat eight, both of Rossiter’s tactical rides had been and gone without any inroads being made into a home lead which stood at 18 points.
The Eagles extended their advantage to 21 points by the time the interval arrived after heat 10, despite the Robins’ first heat advantage finally arriving in heat nine, before a last-heat 5-1 put a tiny bit of gloss on a heavy defeat.
But amidst the fully expected gloom there was one shining light.
With his team place in serious doubt following a string of stuttering displays, there was no better track than Arlington for Gustafsson to show exactly why Rossiter was so excited to acquire the Eastbourne stalwart in the winter.
He took that chance, with the meak, sometimes passive rider who has regularly been beaten by teenage reserves this season replaced by a hard-charging, dirt-chasing racer who wouldn’t take no for an answer. A return of 15 points was a just reward for a whole-hearted display at his former home and, while nobody should get too carried away by one display at a track where he was expected to score heavily, it was the manner in which he performed which should bring hope for the future and buy the Swede more time.
On a night where he needed to prove himself, Gustafsson made the perfect gate from the inside in heat one before holding off Bjarne Pedersen to thunder to victory. Robins captain Troy Batchelor struggled through the first corner and lifted on two occasions as he failed to pass Timo Lahti despite trying every angle.
The opening reserves race of the night immediately put the Robins on the back foot as Lewis Blackbird and Dan Halsey out-gated the Robins pair, and it looked as if another home maximum would follow until Nick Morris was able to slice his way through Joonas Kylmakorpi to limit the damage to just a 4-2 on the second lap of heat three.
Gustafsson enjoyed a physical battle with Blackbird for two bends before eventually being beaten by the reserve as the Eagles stretched their lead yet further, before the home riders hammered in their second maximum of the night from the gate in heat five to leave the Robins in tactical territory.
Rossiter placed the black and white helmet cover on skipper Batchelor but, despite nearly running friend Cam Woodward into the fence in his desperation to pass, he couldn’t claim any extra points as he failed to beat an opponent.
The wait for a heat advantage went on as Greaves slid off but removed his bike from the track in heat seven as Lahti beat Dakota North for another home 4-2, which prompted Rossiter to use his final tactical gamble on Eagles asset Gustafsson in heat eight. The Swede looked to have sliced his way between both home riders to take the lead but couldn’t quite make it stick, although he did managed second place ahead of Kylmakorpi to secure a 4-4.
After Halsey was excluded for falling on his own during the first staging of heat nine, with the Robins on a 5-1, Greaves suffered the same fate in the second staging which led to Worrall convincingly Blackbird in a match race at the third time of asking.
Worrall’s win was the visitors’ first heat advantage of the evening, but normal service soon resumed as Pedersen and Lahti hammered in the fourth maximum of the evening to leave the hosts 21 up at the interval.
The lead was extended further after a break for the latest round of Bob Dugard’s tractor racing series, which totalled eight appearances for grading over the course of the evening, when Kylmakorpi led an Eagles 4-2 before another heat victory from Gustafsson took his personal tally to 12 for the night.
Batchelor joined the party with a heat 13 victory which was backed up by Morris in second for heat advantage number two and, after a shared heat 14 won by a fast-starting Woodward, Gustafsson ensured the night ended on something of a high for Swindon as he stormed around the outside in turns one and two to secure his part of a heat 15 maximum for a heavily beaten Robins side.
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