NATIONAL League racing got off to a highly successful start at Brandon with a thoroughly entertaining clash between Coventry Storm and powerhouse Dudley – and all that was missing was the right result.
But it certainly wasn’t a case of doom and gloom in the Coventry camp after they fought back from eight points down to take the Heathens into a last-heat decider on the night, and there were clear positive signs for the season ahead.
Aggregate victory was already well beyond the Storm following the first leg at Monmore Green, but an encouraging-sized crowd took advantage of speedway for £10, and saw plenty of exciting action.
Storm more than matched Dudley in terms of race wins throughout, and actually ended up with nine compared to the Heathens’ six - but whenever the visitors took the flag in the first half of the meeting it was for a heat advantage, so they were 25-17 up after Heat 7 despite wins for home riders Joe Jacobs, Martin Knuckey, and Robert Branford.
Knuckey, whose form at reserve was a big plus, gated with Richard Franklin for a 5-1 in Heat 8 to halve the gap and Branford – guesting for the injured Oliver Greenwood – then produced his second fine ride of the evening to end the unbeaten run of Dudley captain Lewis Blackbird in Heat 9.
Storm narrowed the gap to two points with five races to go, and although two shared heats followed they moved level when skipper James Sarjeant and Jacobs took a 4-2 over the competitive Blackbird in Heat 13.
The penultimate race looked to favour the Heathens on paper, but Brendan Johnson put earlier mechanical gremlins behind him to hold off Dan Greenwood for the win, with Trevor Heath third after Nathan Greaves had come to grief.
That put the Storm into the last race 43-41 up, but they were to be denied victory on the night when Blackbird combined with the impressive Paul Starke in the decider, the two Heathens seeing off the close challenge of Sarjeant to snatch the win.
Coventry co-boss Blayne Scroggins said: “I was really impressed with the boys, to take Dudley to a last-heat decider, and it’s just a shame the win eluded us. But they worked really hard to solve their early problems and we’re very pleased with them.
“It was a good night with a good crowd and hopefully everyone enjoyed it. We showed what we’re all about – I think the first leg score flattered Dudley a little, but tonight we showed what we could do.”
COVENTRY STORM 44: James Sarjeant 11, Joe Jacobs 9, Robert Branford 9, Martin Knuckey 6+2, Richard Franklin 4, Brendan Johnson 3, Trevor Heath 2.
DUDLEY 46: Lewis Blackbird 12+1, Paul Starke 12, Dan Greenwood 7+1, Gareth Isherwood 6+1, Tony Atkin 4+2, Nathan Greaves 3, Max Clegg 2+1.
COVENTRY 44 Joe Jacobs 3 2 3 1 0 = 9 Richard Franklin 0 R 3 1 = 4 Robert Branford 1 3 3 2 = 9 Brendan Johnson 0 R 0 3 = 3 James Sarjeant 2 2 3 3 1 = 11 Trevor Heath 1 0 0 1 = 2 Martin Knuckey 3 0 2* 1* = 6+2
DUDLEY 46 Tony Atkin 2 1* 1* 0 = 4+2 Gareth Isherwood 1* 2 1 2 = 6+1 Paul Starke 3 3 R 3 3 = 12 Dan Greenwood 2* 1 2 2 = 7+1 Lewis Blackbird 3 3 2 2 2* = 12+1 Max Clegg X 1 1* 0 = 2+1 Nathan Greaves 2 1 R X = 3