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Pirates: Ward insists title race will go down to the wire
The Australian sensation produced a truly breathtaking display to inspire struggling Pirates to an epic comeback in the first leg at Swindon tonight.
Ward, together with fellow Turbo Twin Chris Holder, launched a frantic late rally as Pirates recovered from 36-18 down to trail by just seven points ahead of Wednesday's return fixture at Wimborne Road.
With their bottom three mustering a paltry six points and Swindon scoring heavily and consistently throughout, the defending champions looked finished after enduring a dreadful start.
But following back-to-back 5-1s from the rampant Robins, crucial tactical wins from captain Holder and the scintillating Ward turned the tide in heats 10 and 11.
Six of Pirates’ eight race victories were earned in the final six clashes as the Dorset big guns – again hugely dependent on Ward, Holder and Krzysztof Kasprzak – finished on the front foot to set up an intriguing second leg.
Ward told the Daily Echo: “We started really badly, which might hurt us in the long haul or it might not. We did really well to get to just seven after being 18 down.
“We are real happy with seven points and, hopefully, we can do our job at home. I think it will be tight but we will have to wait and see. I think it will come down to heats 13 and 15.”
Deserved finalists, there had been just one point – in favour of Swindon – to separate the two teams in four meetings during the regulation campaign.
But it looked like being nowhere near that close when the visitors’ game-plan was left in tatters within the space of three races.
In his only blip, fast-starting Ward lost control on the damp inside line, allowing Hans Andersen and Nick Morris to register a 5-1.
The exceptional Seb Alden, a late replacement for injury victim Jason Doyle, and Dawid Lampart immediately |followed suit before superb Simon Stead stunned world champion Holder to send the locals into dreamland.
Kasprzak and Ward finally got wounded Pirates up and running before Andersen won a shared heat.
However, Pirates had no answer as the rampant Robins upped the ante in pursuit of the club’s first top-flight crown since 1967.
The revved-up Wiltshire outfit took a huge step towards ending that drought by making big gains in mid-meeting. Scintillating Batchelor beat Holder before Morris and Alden dominated Masters and Kling. By the time Kildemand and Stead had combined to maximum effect, Pirates were a mighty 18 points behind.
Even by their standards, Poole needed a powerhouse finish to give themselves at least a fighting chance ahead of Wednesday's return leg in Dorset.
Well and truly in tactical ride territory, boss Neil Middleditch unsurprisingly put his faith in Turbo Twins Holder and Ward and, yet again, they did not disappoint.
Sensational Holder used every inch of the Blunsdon shale to do his bit before Ward completed a 7-2 ahead of Batchelor and Kling to raise Pirates’ hopes.
Holder saw off Kildemand and Alden before the breathtaking Ward produced a blistering effort to defeat Andersen, with Kasprzak completing the 4-2.
Now trailing by just eight, Kasprzak beat Stead in what was reduced to a two-man contest before Ward rocketed clear to leave things delicately poised.