COVENTRY Storm’s National League play-off hopes are fading after a 39-53 defeat to an impressive King’s Lynn side at Brandon on Friday.
Teenage sensation Robert Lambert headed up a solid all-round show from the Young Stars who leap above the Storm in the table, and although Coventry hold the final play-off place at present, they are likely to be overhauled by the Isle of Wight or Buxton who have matches in hand.
A win over rampant leaders Dudley in the final fixture on September 6 coupled with the right combination of results elsewhere could still see the Storm make it, but the odds are now stacked against them.
The loss of British Under-21 Champion Robert Branford to injury has been a major blow, and on a night where the Storm needed everything to go right, that proved not to be the case, as they were reduced to five riders when Luke Crang took the second of two heavy spills in Heat 8 and was ruled out with a knock to the head.
At that stage the Storm were only two points down, Joe Jacobs having defeated Lambert in Heat 1 to set up a close-fought first half of the meeting in which the Young Stars led mainly through a surprise 5-1 in Heat 2.
Crang had already been the victim of a first-bend crash in Heat 6, when had had nowhere to go but into the back wheel of Lewis Kerr, and then when he came down in Heat 8 he actually took two impacts as he could not get clear of his bike.
The double-setback for the Storm was that the race was in a 3-3 situation at the time, but in the re-run Shane Waldron shot from the start to partner Lewis Rose to a 5-1 – and then Oliver Greenwood slipped off on the last bend of Heat 9 when holding a safe second place.
With the Storm going ten points down, Lambert saw off a tactical ride from skipper James Sarjeant, but there was a late Coventry rally with Greenwood and Martin Knuckey doing well to secure a 5-1 over Jake Knight in Heat 12.
That reduced the gap to six points but Kerr, after two early defeats to Sarjeant and Jacobs, displayed the form which has made him a strong Premier League performer for Newcastle this season to partner Lambert to a 5-1 in Heat 13.
A shared penultimate race meant the Young Stars almost had maximum points in the bag, and they confirmed it with a stunning effort from both of their riders in Heat 15, Kerr scraping the boards on turn four to hit the front and Lambert producing a remarkable inside pass on Greenwood on the third lap.
Coventry co-boss Blayne Scroggins said: “It’s virtually over now, we’ve got to beat Dudley and hope for a miracle somewhere but I can’t fault the effort tonight. The boys worked hard and they were busting a gut.
“King’s Lynn are a strong team, and performance-wise I thought we bounced back from the Kent defeat. But we lost Luke and that was just too much in the end.
“The riders are disappointed, of course, but overall we’ve got a good product here and the crowds have come out to support it so we still have to be pleased with the season.”
COVENTRY 39: Joe Jacobs 11, James Sarjeant 11, Oliver Greenwood 10, Martin Knuckey 4+1, James Shanes 2, Luke Crang 1, Robert Branford r/r.
KING’S LYNN 53: Robert Lambert 13+1, Lewis Kerr 12+1, Jake Knight 8, Ryan Terry-Daley 6+2, Lewis Rose 6+1, Shane Waldron 4+2, Darren Mallett 4+1.
COVENTRY 39 Joe Jacobs 3 3 3 2 0 = 11 Luke Crang 0 1 X = 1 Robert Branford Rider Replacement Oliver Greenwood 1 2 0 3 3 1 = 10 James Sarjeant 3 0 3 4^ 1 0 = 11 James Shanes 0 0 2 0 0 = 2 Martin Knuckey 1 0 1 0 2* = 4+1
KING’S LYNN 53 Robert Lambert 2 3 3 3 2* =13+1 Lewis Rose 1* 1 3 1 = 6+1 Jake Knight 2 2 3 1 = 8 Darren Mallett 0 1* 1 2 = 4+1 Lewis Kerr 2 2 3 2* 3 = 12+1 Shane Waldron 2* 0 2* 0 = 4+2 Ryan Terry-Daley 3 1* T 1 1* = 6+2