COVENTRY Storm remain on course for a place in the National League play-offs after a thrilling 47-46 win at Buxton on Sunday.
It was the Storm’s third away win of their first campaign at this level, and the result extends their lead at the top of the table to seven points over the chasing pack.
But they had to overcome a nervous finale to the meeting, with Luke Crang the last-heat hero as he split Charles Wright and Adam McKinna to ensure the visitors edged to victory by a single point after being in control for much of the afternoon.
And that completed a hugely impressive display from Crang, who only made his competitive speedway debut earlier this season and has quickly become an integral part of the Storm team.
The visitors looked set to concede a 5-1 in Heat 1, but Robert Branford’s inside move on Adam McKinna going into the last bend forced an error from the Buxton man, who fell to allow the Storm a share of the points.
And they took maximum advantage in the next two races with guest reserves Ryan Terry-Daley and Tommy Fenwick racing to a Heat 2 maximum, whilst Branford and Oliver Greenwood went clear in the next.
When Crang and Branford hunted down race leader Ryan Blacklock and both shot through on the last lap of Heat 5, the Storm held a comfortable ten-point advantage, and with Buxton delaying their tactical ride Greenwood and Crang took the opportunity to extend it to twelve with a 4-2 in Heat 7.
Wright, who gave a faultless display for the home side, banked six points when he went for double in Heat 8, but Crang and Fenwick tucked into second and third places before the first setback with a shock 5-1 concession in Heat 9 as James Sarjeant was headed by Liam Carr and Ryan Blacklock, who had both previously conceded two 5-1s of their own.
But Sarjeant and Greenwood then worked hard to keep Carr at the back in Heat 10 and with Crang and Branford too quick for McKinna in Heat 11 – Crang winning in the fastest time of the day, the Storm looked safe, especially when Greenwood rode a controlled outside line around turns one and two to take victory in Heat 12.
Coventry led 42-33 with three heats to go but Buxton set up a grandstand finale as McKinna battled Branford and Sarjeant behind Wright in Heat 13, Sarjeant falling on turn four and Branford having to cover a strong challenge from his opponent going into the second lap.
The advantage was down to seven, and with Buxton then pulling off a totally unexpected 5-1 in Heat 14 from Carr and Matt Williamson over the otherwise impressive Greenwood the alarm bells were ringing.
The Hitmen had gained momentum and needed a 5-1 from Heat 15 to complete an amazing comeback – and from the gate it looked like they had it as Wright and McKinna hit the first bend in front. But with Branford squeezed out, Crang crucially rounded McKinna up the back straight and then held position to see his team through to an exciting victory.
Storm co-boss Laurence Rogers said: “It was a really tough match, they really threw it back at us with a couple of 5-1s but we held on and credit to all six of our riders.
“Our two reserves came in and did a great job for us, so it was a good all-round team performance and Crangy really found belief for that last race. He doesn’t know he’s as good as he is, and he’s got to believe that – he’s doing a great job, and there’s more to come.
“The team spirit is amazing. I’ve had great spirit at clubs before, but these boys literally fight for each other, they are in there if there are any problems and they all help each other. If we can keep this up, that play-off place is there and you never know what can happen!”
BUXTON 46: Charles Wright 21, Adam McKinna 8, Liam Carr 6, Ryan Blacklock 5+2, Matt Williamson 5+1, Tom Woolley 1, Tony Atkin r/r.
COVENTRY 47: Luke Crang 12+1, Robert Branford 11+2, Oliver Greenwood 10+2, James Sarjeant 7, Ryan Terry-Daley 4+1, Tommy Fenwick 3+2, Joe Jacobs r/r.
BUXTON 46 Charles Wright 3 3 6^ 3 3 3 = 21 Tony Atkin Rider Replacement Ryan Blacklock 1 1 2* 1* = 5+2 Liam Carr 0 0 3 0 3 = 6 Adam McKinna 0 3 2 1 1 1 = 8 Tom Woolley 1 0 0 = 1 Matt Williamson 0 1 0 0 2 2* = 5+1
COVENTRY 47 Robert Branford 2 3 2* 2* 2 0 = 11+2 Luke Crang 1* 3 1 2 3 2 = 12+1 Joe Jacobs Rider Replacement Oliver Greenwood 2* 3 1* 3 1 = 10+2 James Sarjeant 2 2 1 2 F = 7 Ryan Terry-Daley 3 1* 0 0 = 4+1 Tommy Fenwick 2* 0 1* 0 = 3+2