THE Robins’ first ever visit to Beaumont Park was billed as an uphill struggle which they had no chance of winning.
How wrong we all were.
With no recognised heat leader available to stand in for either Peter Kildemand or Troy Batchelor, and Leicester also missing three riders due to Grand Prix qualifying, the hosts had been heavily criticised for running a meeting which potentially damaged the already fragile reputation of the sport.
While the racing was not particularly attractive, with heats won largely from the gate, and the two teams unrecognisable from their usual line-ups, those Robins fans who were brave enough to travel to the East Midlands were rewarded with a gutsy performance from what remained of their team.
The Lions had originally booked Elite League big hitters Bjarne Pedersen and Rory Schlein to replace Jason Doyle and Mads Korneliussen, leading to suggestions the Robins may struggle to break the 30-point mark.
They had reached that mark by the end of heat eight.
Yes, the late withdrawal Pedersen significantly levelled the playing field before a wheel was turned, with Coventry second string Kenneth Hansen only scoring two in his place, and Pole Krzysztof Buczkowski took two races to get going on his first visit to his new home, but even those factors make an away win no less surprising against a Leicester team which remained stronger on paper.
On that same piece of paper Sam Masters, Alun Rossiter’s third choice of guest after both Davey Watt and Daniel Nermark suffered injuries just hours after being booked by the Robins boss, was a downgrade from Grand Prix regular Batchelor, but the young Aussie proved a trump card at a track he knows well with 8+1.
Simon Gustafsson and Dakota North ensured the visitors jumped out the traps early on as neither were beaten by an opponent in their first two rides, providing a platform for victory which the Lions struggled to break down as even their two tactical rides failed to make any inroads.
Despite the strong start it looked as though the Robins’ recent trend of late collapses was going to cost them once again, but their early work proved to be just about enough as Steve Worrall sealed the deal in heat 14 to cap a night where he once again top scored with 11+1 from reserve.
Indeed, the hosts would have won by a point had their second black and white ride been used on eventual heat 10 winner Simon Stead, rather than bizarrely on Hansen who proceeded to card his third-straight last, but from that point on it always seemed as if it was going to be the Robins’ day, despite the Lions’ late rally.
Gustafsson came out in heat one in place of Kildemand, and the Swede made a superb start from gate three as he jumped out and beat both Lions to the first corner before being joined by North to give the Robins the perfect start.
A shared reserve race, won by Swindon draftee Josh Bates for Leicester, kept the Robins in front, with Nathan Greaves looking good in second as he held his line well to highlight the progress he has made in recent weeks.
Heat three ended early as stand-in skipper Nick Morris and Buczkowski collided as the Robins skipper was excluded, with the result awarded as a victory to Schlein with Masters second. After being looked at by the paramedics, Morris walked back to the pits and was fit to carry on in the meeting.
The visitors continued to make a noise as North and Worrall jumped out the gate to beat the Lions duo of Ashley Birks and Bates and, after another from-the-gate maximum from Gusatafsson and captain Morris, Leicester boss Norrie Allan was forced to roll his tactical dice for the first time.
Schlein was sent out in black and white in heat six but could only watch as Masters gated inside him and held the line for four laps. Schlein tried everything to make it past but, given the tight entries to corners, he was unable to make a move before a last ditch fling to the line was unsuccessful.
Gustafsson couldn’t catch heat seven winner Stead, but Greaves was able to hold off Max Clegg to secure a share of the points which kept the 10-point lead intact, before Worrall extended the lead with a victory in the second reserves race which was backed up by Greaves in third.
Now 12 down, the Lions were in position to use their second tactical ride, but bizarrely Allan opted to use the so far pointless Hansen, rather than Stead, coming off a race win, in black and white. It proved to be a poor decision as Hansen trailed away at the back as Stead stormed to victory, with the Robins duo of Morris and Masters packed in second and third to ensure the Lions could make no progress.
After the interval, an all-too familiar story began to rear its head as the hosts immediately rook a chunk out of the Robins’ lead, with Buczkowski coming alive to win heat 11 ahead of Schlein and the two trailing Swindon riders.
The next race was shared after Stead rounded Worrall in the first corner before Buczkowski recorded his second victory of the night in heat 13, with Hansen finally getting in on the act behind him to provide a maximum which put the hosts firmly back in the hunt with two races to go.
However, with the Beaumont Park faithful expecting the comeback to be completed, Worrall produced a superb display to beat Bates home in the penultimate race with Gustafsson backing up in third to make sure of the win.
The next target for Swindon was maximum points, but with Buczkowski now firmly used to his new home another maximum with Schlein arrived to rob the Robins of their fourth point and leave their winning margin at only two.