THE destiny of the Elite League title remains firmly in the balance after Poole stormed back from 18 points down to cut the Robins’ lead to only seven going into Wednesday night’s deciding second leg.
The home side made a lightning start with victory in the opening three heats and led 36-18 at the end of heat nine, but successive tactical wins from powerhouse duo Chris Holder and Darcy Ward dragged the Pirates back into it as the Robins failed to take a heat advantage from any of the final six races.
The racing was as tough and unforgiving as a final should be as Hans Andersen and Peter Kildemand hit double figures for the Robins, while the trio of Holder, Ward and Kryzystof Kasprzak scored all-but six of the visitors’ points on an evening played out in front of a bumper Blunsdon crowd.
The Robins could yet rue a succession of thrown-away points at the back end of the meeting, and boss Alun Rossiter admitted his side cannot afford to do the same again at Wimborne Road. “The lead should have been more because we made some silly mistakes, but it is not over yet by a long shot,” he said.
“This is a final and it is in the balance, although it is closer than we really wanted after the tacticals got them back into it.
“We were in point-scoring positions and we got sloppy, and we can’t do that at Wimborne Road. I am not too despondent but we have to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again.”
The Robins made the most fortunate of starts as Ward stormed away from gate four only to spin into the fence after skidding over a damp patch on the inside line. The young star stayed on his bike, but cruised in last as Andersen and Nick Morris claimed an opening 5-1.
Things got even better in heat two as Seb Alden led from the front, while Dawid Lampart passed Sam Masters on the inside coming out of turn two to secure a second successive 5-1.
Simon Stead lowered the colours of the new world champion on what was Holder’s first ride in this country since winning the title in Torun, and after Masters pulled up Kildemand stole third to earn the Robins their third straight heat advantage.
Troy Batchelor looked lightning quick as he fought with Kasprzak for all four laps of heat four, but the Robins man hit the deck on the final corner as he looked to go around the outside of the Pole.
Ward swooped around the outside of everyone in turn one of heat five, and the Robins pairing on Kildemand and Stead both passed Kling to share the heat.
Andersen out-trapped and then held off Kasprzak to win heat six, but Morris couldn’t beat fellow Aussie Masters as the heat was shared. Holder looked quick in the next race but Batchelor held him off well, and the Robins fired home another maximum in heat eight as Morris and Alden stretched the home lead to 14.
Kildemand and Stead notched up another 5-1 before Holder replied with a tactical ride victory, but Kyle Howarth trailed in last and the visitors only dented the home lead by three points.
Ward showed all his skill to superbly cut back under Batchelor, but after Lampart hit the deck and didn’t get up in time the race was re-run, although the Australian still prevailed to cut the gap to 10.
Kildemand chased Holder hard for two laps before the world champion rode clear to take victory, but the Robins duo packed the minor places to keep the lead in double figures.
Ward pushed it to the limit in heat 13 to eventually pass Andersen after four superb laps of racing, and after Batchelor fell while in third the Robins’ lead was cut yet further going into the final two heats.
Alden was excluded in the penultimate heat before Kasprzak beat Stead in a close match race after Masters dropped out in the re-run, and Andersen did superbly to hold off Holder to earn a 3-3 in heat 15 to preserve the Robins’ lead.