THIRD time lucky for the Buildbase Bees as they collected their first Elite League win of the season following Good Friday’s double defeat – having been pushed all the way by King’s Lynn at Brandon.
Indeed, with three races to go, an upset looked like it could be on the cards as the Stars edged into the lead and appeared to have the momentum only for Coventry’s heat-leaders to see them to victory.
It was still a point dropped of the three that were available, although it rarely looked as though Bees would be able to stretch to a lead of seven points, and King’s Lynn’s away results to this stage of the season suggested they would prove to be stubborn opponents, especially having strengthened since losing out to Peterborough twice on Good Friday.
Visiting No.1 Niels-Kristian Iversen has started the season in excellent form, and he underlined that in the opening race with a fast start from the outside as Chris Harris missed out from gate three and looked to be facing a first-race last place until he moved inside Daniel Nermark at the start of the third lap, and then overhauled his team-mate Leigh Lanham for second place.
A second shared heat followed with Adam Roynon again making light work of Heat 2, but the Stars duo of Kevin Wolbert and Dakota North packed in comfortably ahead of Henning Bager.
Heat 3 produced a dramatic first lap with Edward Kennett gating smartly and initially being joined by Kenni Larsen, only for the Dane to be swamped either side by Mads Korneliussen and Jordan Frampton on the back straight. Larsen, though, made his way back between the pair on turns three and four and then pulled away from Korneliussen, who had scored a maximum on the previous night at Swindon, for the first 5-1 of the night.
That was followed by a 4-2 in Heat 4 with Scott Nicholls getting the better of a strong early challenge from Maciej Janowski, and with Bager defeating North on this occasion Bees looked comfortable with a six-point lead.
Heat 5, though, was mysteriously called back for an all-four re-start with Kennett having got round Iversen on the first bend, and in the re-run it was better news for the Stars with Iversen making the start and holding on for a second win, and Nermark covering all angles against Larsen for a 4-2 to the Stars.
Another visitors’ advantage could have followed in Heat 6 but for a majestic ride by Harris, after giving the opposition yards of start from the gate. Harris first reeled in Wolbert and passed him at the start of the third lap, but there was still plenty to do to get up with Janowski, and Harris did just that and swept around the Pole coming off the final bend to just reach the finish line in front.
After that excitement, Nicholls was a convincing winner of Heat 7 with Frampton blocking out Roynon’s back-straight challenge for a shared race, but the Stars struck back in Heat 8 with a good reserve switch from boss Rob Lyon, who introduced Wolbert to partner Nermark and got his reward when his two riders gated and raced clear of Lanham and Bager for a 5-1.
If they were shocked by being pulled back level, Bees replied immediately with maximum points of their own in Heat 9, Kennett holding Janowski at bay on turns one and two, and Larsen sweeping around the outside to put the Bees back into a four-point lead.
Harris then made a much better start to win Heat 10 with the Stars happy enough to share the points ahead of Lanham, but nobody could have predicted what was to follow in Heat 11 with Nicholls missing out from the inside and finding himself behind both Iversen and a fast-starting Nermark. The Bees man did everything he could to split the visitors’ duo, but Iversen’s team-riding was spot-on and suddenly at 33-33 the Stars had a big opportunity to take something from the meeting.
Their prospects further improved in Heat 12 when Larsen found himself out-gated by Korneliussen and Wolbert, although he did at least manage to split the pairing off turn four to prevent a second successive 5-1 – but even so it meant the Stars took a two-point lead into the last three races.
A big response, was required from Coventry, and fortunately Harris and Nicholls were able to provide just that with Harris getting to turn one ahead of Iversen in Heat 13 and Nicholls, after initially looking set to join him off turn two, had to ride a terrific first lap to make it around the Dane and the block his repeat challenge going into the second lap. It turned the meeting back in the Bees’ favour, but all results were still possible with two races to go.
With Kennett making a great start in Heat 14 and Roynon’s looking promising too, the Bees reserve unluckily picked up too much drive between turns one and two and then lifted violently, Nicholls-style, on the back straight before coming to grief on bend three – but thankfully he had the presence of mind to clear the track with Kennett up-front, and that maintained Coventry’s lead going into the decider, although King’s Lynn were by now virtually guaranteed a point.
With the favoured gates 2 and 4 for Heat 15, they may well have been targeting even more than that, but in high tension Korneliussen made a poor start from the outside, and with Nicholls superbly switching inside Iversen coming off the second bend the odds were much more in the Bees’ favour, which was how things turned out even though Harris’s thrusting efforts couldn’t take him past Iversen for another 5-1.
It would be hard to argue against the final outcome being a fair one, with the Bees taking two points and the Stars one, but it does mean that Coventry need to be looking at various away trips during the season to take victories and consolation points. With the line-up they can usually deploy, that should be possible, but this was a reminder that there will be few easy matches either home or away this year.