BEES remain unbeaten at Smallmead in three Elite League matches across the last two seasons - and although this latest success was not entirely unpredictable, it again demonstrated an impressive strength in depth which will be required as they battle for the season's top honours.
Reading were clearly depleted going into the fixture, but a professional Bees performance throughout gave the Racers no chance of contemplating a surprise win - although there were signs from the home team that given a little more fortune with rider availability in the future, better times could be around the corner.
With Scott Nicholls and Rory Schlein declaring themselves fit after illness but Olly Allen ruled out with injury, Bees were more than a little surprised to arrive at the track to discover that the home side would be using rider replacement for Matej Zagar, who was competing in the Polish League - rather than the previously announced Ben Barker coming in. Seemingly, a precedent had been set when Krzysztof Kasprzak visited the Polish president on Monday, although that was news to Coventry until they arrived. But the Racers were still without Jonas Davidsson due to the Swedish Championships, with new No.8 Chris Neath coming in - whilst Lakeside's Adam Shields took the guest booking for the still-absent Greg Hancock.
After a lengthy delay to organise medical cover after the paramedic was involved in a traffic accident on the way to the stadium, Nicholls made a perfect start to lead from tapes-to-flag in Heat 1, although rider-replacement Billy Janniro was unable to find a way past Adam Shields and the race was shared.
Janniro, however, made use of his track knowledge in the reserves' race, which was dominated by Martin Smolinski with Janniro resolutely defending from Sam Simota and eventually re-passing the Czech on the inside going into the last bend after Simota seemed to have split the Coventry pairing. Neath was unable to make a significant impact after breaking the tapes and going off the 15-metre handicap.
That sparked a run of Bees heat advantages, continuing in a long-running Heat 3 which was first pulled back for apparent movement by Schlein, and then for a fall for Steve Johnston on turn two which resulted in his exclusion. At the third time of asking, Mark Lemon suffered machine trouble on the start-line and Schlein led home Shields in what amounted to a match race.
Chris Harris's first appearance saw him go round Simota off turn two in determined style to win Heat 4 with Smolinski in a comfortable third place ahead of an unhappy Travis McGowan; and Smolinski took third place in another 4-2 in Heat 5, Nicholls the winner once more and his partner almost catching out Kolodziej in the closing stages.
Heat 6 was a cracker, with Janniro making a splendid move on the first and second bends to round the field on gate 4, and Harris then doing all he could to protect him. On two occasions, the ever-trying Kolodziej seemed to have come through into at least second place, but somehow the Bees duo held on with the top three riders crossing the finishing line virtually together, and the visitors taking the 5-1.
Schlein made it two out of two with a routine win over McGowan in Heat 7, Johnston's third place extending the Bees lead to 15 - but Johnston was then involved in a nasty first-bend incident with Simota in Heat 8, with the Coventry man bearing the brunt of the impact. Team spirit was clearly on show as the four remaining Bees riders rushed from the pits on turn three to the site of the crash, and although Johnston was able to walk away it clearly compromised the rest of his evening.
The re-run, with all four, saw tactical ride Kolodziej go away for a six-point win, Reading's first heat winner of the night thus being very well-timed, and Simota then rode a good race to snatch second from Smolinski on the run-in by coming through on the inside after several laps trying a wider route. All of a sudden, the 8-1 gave the Racers hope, but Bees still appeared to have more than enough to cope with any threat.
A trading of 4-2s followed with Harris getting the better of Lemon in the early stages of Heat 9, Janniro in third spot, and then in Heat 10 a potential share of the points behind Kolodziej and Schlein went in Reading's favour as guest Adam Shields went around Johnson coming out of the second bend on the last lap.
The Bees riders made excellent starts in a Heat 11 which looked like it could well go their way, but as Nicholls kept his unbeaten record Smolinski ran out of room on turn two and came down, doing well to re-mount with Nicholls already in an unassailable lead.
The gap, therefore was still eight points, and it became 10 with a 4-2 in Heat 12, fronted by a superb first lap by Schlein, who weaved his way around Lemon and then inside Simota on the back straight and going into turn three - with Janniro catching and passing Lemon later in the race.
Nicholls made it four out of four as he blasted clear of Shields in the first half-lap of Heat 13, but Shields' good start enabled him to become the first man to defeat Harris, who had been delayed in clearing McGowan and lost too much ground with the track slickening off and the dust clouds billowing.
With a 12-point lead, Coventry's victory was already secure, and the reserves were content to pack in behind Simota for a 3-3 in Heat 14 before the last race served up another thriller. Nicholls lost his maximum chances by anticipating the start, the tapes going up just as he pulled back, although he did manage to overhaul Simota for third place. The main action was at the front, however, and Harris completed the night with one of his top-drawer overtaking moves, finding drive around the outside coming off turn four - where nobody had made a pass all evening - to make it round Kolodziej going into the last lap.
Reading fans can certainly feel proud of the efforts of Kolodziej and Simota, who prevented a much heavier scoreline in the Bees' favour, and despite the dust there was some good, committed racing to enjoy. Most important, though, was the result - and the news coming through from Poole that the Pirates had failed to claim the aggregate point against Belle Vue, a major boost to Bees' hopes of finishing in the top two.
READING 39 COVENTRY 53 Wednesday 1st August 2007 - Sky Sports Elite League A
READING Adam Shields 1* 2 0 1 2 = 6+1 Janusz Kolodziej 2 2 1 6^ 3 2 = 16 Matej Zagar R/R Mark Lemon R 0 2 0 0 = 2 Travis McGowan 0 2 0 1* 0 = 3+1 Chris Neath 0 0 2 = 2 Sam Simota 1 2 2* 2 3 0 = 10+1
BUILDBASE BEES Scott Nicholls 3 3 3 3 1 = 13 Olly Allen R/R Rory Schlein 3 3 2 3 = 11 Steve Johnston X 1 0 0 = 1 Chris Harris 3 2* 3 1 3 = 12+1 Billy Janniro 0 2* 3 1 1 1* = 8+2 Martin Smolinski 3 1 1 1 0 2 = 8