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Speedway verdict: Poole Pirates 49 Swindon Robins 41
WRITTEN off, ridiculed and taunted by their detractors, punch-drunk Poole Pirates looked out for the count.
Lurching from one crisis to another with only the odd sublime moment to remedy the ridiculous, Pirates were all but slumped on the canvas.
After taking blow after blow and with their backs against the ropes, somebody should really have thrown in the towel on a season destined for failure.
From injury woes to poor form and ill-fated team changes to heavy defeats, rival supporters appeared to take great pleasure in Poole’s lowly league status.
Accused of throwing good money after bad, Ford saw something which many others had been unable to after a troubled, dire start to the 2013 campaign.
Instead of simply opting to look to next season while drawing a line firmly under the current one, he made some controversial calls, looked for reinforcements and dug deep into the coffers.
The result? A raft of new signings – at no small expense – and the prospect, remarkably, of salvaging something special in the unlikeliest of revivals.
The season may well end as it had threatened to for much of the summer – in disappointment – but you certainly can’t fault Pirates for trying.
Regardless of how the final few weeks of this Elite League campaign unfold, it has been far more exciting than many at Wimborne Road could have envisaged.
Hit by poor performances, injuries to influential riders and even a temporary British retirement for one team member, there have been plenty of reasons to give up.
But today, in front of a bumper Bank Holiday Monday crowd, Pirates gained rich reward for their persistence, if nothing else.
This hard-fought 49-41 victory over old foes Swindon Robins slashed to three points the gap between Poole and Lakeside, their main rivals for the fourth play-off place.
The Robins rocked up in Dorset with well-publicised problems of their own after reports last week emerged concerning unpaid wages for some Swindon riders.
But teams led by Alun Rossiter have never made life easy for Pirates and that was again the case during a hotly-contested clash on a scorching south coast day.
Edward Kennett set the tone by slamming the door on Darcy Ward as the Australian launched his usual daredevil fence-skirting assault round the outside of turn two in the opener. Ward subsequently retired, leaving Kennett to expertly halt persistent Tomas H Jonasson.
Kyles Howarth and Newman, both popular Poole assets, then settled in for a 3-3 behind fast-starting Josh Grajczonek before veteran Greg Hancock called on all his wily skills to defy the hard-chasing Nick Morris in heat three.
Maciej Janowski and Micky Dyer were then forced to defend their positions for a much-needed heat advantage as Howarth and Batchelor, who had run wide on the first lap, battled all the way.
With air horns blaring and plenty of spectators surrounding the shale, Hancock again served up a lesson in gating, blasting from the traps for the most routine of wins.
However, with the starts key and overtaking at a premium, his colleagues Ward and Jonasson were unable to replicate and they were punished in heat six by Batchelor.
Batchelor was unable to follow that, though, and almost wiped out team-mate Morris as the Robins duo could do little other than toil round the oval, way adrift of the imperious Janowski.
With no fewer than five 3-3s in the opening seven races, the scores remained locked heading into the second half of an intriguing clash.
And the turning point arguably came in heat eight – despite Poole suffering a 4-2 loss. Kennett took the chequered flag but it was Jonasson’s breathtaking pursuit of Howarth to steal second spot – ending up in the shale as a result of his efforts – which raised the roof and switched the momentum.
From there, more excellent work from Hancock was followed by Ward wonderfully slicing between Kennett and Howarth to follow home the impressive Jonasson for a crucial 5-1. Hans Andersen briefly stopped the charge but once Grajczonek had forced an error from Howarth to open the door for Hancock to back him up for another maximum, Pirates were firmly in charge.
Ward won again before Grajczonek emulated the heroics of Jonasson – and cemented his place as star rider – in a thrilling heat 14. With Rohan Tungate finally coming to the party out in front, Grajczonek saved the best for last by hurtling round the outside to steal third from Morris in the tightest of finishes.
A scintillating show from Ward completed the win and ensured that resilient Pirates somehow, with their heavyweight top three and against most reasonable logic, remained in with a puncher’s chance.
Poole Pirates 49: 1 Darcy Ward (r-2-2*-3-3) 10+1, 2 Tomas H Jonasson (2-1*-2-3) 8+1, 3 Greg Hancock (3-3-3-2*-0) 11+1, 4 Rohan Tungate (0-0-0-3) 3, 5 Maciej Janowski (3-3-2-0) 8, 6 Josh Grajczonek (3-0-1*-3-1) 8+1, 7 Micky Dyer (0-1-0) 1.
Swindon Robins 41: 1 Hans Andersen (1-2-3-1*-1*) 8+2, 2 Edward Kennett (3-1*-3-0-0) 7+1, 3 Rider Replacement for Peter Kildemand, 4 Nick Morris (2-2-t-1-0) 5, 5 Troy Batchelor (0-3-1*-2-2-2) 10+1, 6 Kyle Newman (guest) (1*-0-1*) 2+2, 7 Kyle Howarth (2-1*-2-1-1-0-2) 9+1.
ECHO STAR RIDER - Josh Grajczonek
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