BATTLING Coventry Storm were unable to halt the Dudley steamroller at Brandon – but they could take a great deal of credit from a 41-49 defeat in their final National League fixture of the season.
Missing three of their regular top five, the Storm looked to be on a hiding to nothing but pre-match predictions of a big Heathens win went out of the window as the home side worked hard to stay in touch.
With skipper James Sarjeant and the injured Robert Branford and Luke Crang all unavailable, the Storm picked the perfect guest in Lewis Kerr who gave a magnificent performance for a paid-16 score against the strongest heat-leader trio in the league.
Joe Jacobs also hit double figures as well as breaking the National League track record, and may have scored more but for an unfair disqualification in Heat 15 when he was clearly the victim of first-bend bunching - whilst in the lower order Martin Knuckey’s score of paid-five belied his efforts, despite riding with a cracked collarbone!
When Dudley sailed into a 9-3 lead after two races the signs looked ominous for the Storm, but Jacobs combined with Oliver Greenwood for a 5-1 over Paul Starke in Heat 3 in the first sign that the Dudley big guns wouldn’t have things all their own way.
And after Nathan Greaves had looped at the start of Heat 7 and thankfully walked away unscathed, another win from Kerr over Starke in the re-run set up a Coventry 4-2 to level the scores.
In the final analysis, the Heathens won the meeting in the next two races, both of which resulted in 5-1s and both of which featured their hugely impressive 16-year-old Max Clegg, the Heat 9 maximum seeing him team-ridden home by the alert captain Ashley Morris.
The Storm had a stroke of fortune in Heat 11 when Dudley No.1 Lewis Blackbird ground to a halt whilst leading, and that sparked a trading of 4-2s between the sides with Kerr producing the ride of the night to switch inside Blackbird on the second lap and win a tremendous Heat 13.
Starke scored the only rider-replacement points of the meeting for the Heathens by winning Heat 14 to secure their victory, and needing an advantage from the last to collect all four league points they were given assistance when Jacobs was hit by Starke on the first bend and wrongly disqualified when all-four back was the obvious verdict.
Kerr again rode a fine race to split Morris and Starke in the re-run, almost moving inside the Heathens skipper off the fourth bend, but Morris held on to make sure of the result the title favourites wanted.
Coventry boss Laurence Rogers said: “I’m sure the crowd were happy with that, and I really can’t see anyone moaning that we lost by eight in the end. We pulled it back to 21-21 at one stage, a couple of 5-1s knocked us back but I can’t throw criticism at any rider.
“Lewis Kerr was superb, and he was part and parcel of the team as well. Some of his races on-track were unbelievable and the pass he made on Lewis Blackbird was top-drawer, so many thanks to him for his great efforts.
“I think the referee must have been the only person in the stadium who didn’t see the Heat 15 incident – he said he didn’t see it. Joe was showing him his kevlars which were ripped, and it spoiled the end of a great meeting. Dudley had already won, but I can’t understand the decision.”
COVENTRY 41: Lewis Kerr 15+1, Joe Jacobs 11, Oliver Greenwood 9+1, Martin Knuckey 4+1, Ryan Terry-Daley 1+1, James Shanes 1, Robert Branford r/r. DUDLEY 49: Paul Starke 13, Max Clegg 10+2, Ashley Morris 9+1, Lewis Blackbird 8, Dan Greenwood 5+1, Nathan Greaves 4+1, Gareth Isherwood r/r.
COVENTRY 41 Joe Jacobs 2 3 3 2 1 X = 11 Ryan Terry-Daley 0 0 0 1* = 1+1 Robert Branford Rider Replacement Oliver Greenwood 2* 2 1 2 2 = 9+1 Lewis Kerr 3 1* 3 3 3 2 = 15+1 Martin Knuckey 1 1 0 1 1* = 4+1 James Shanes R 0 1 R = 1
DUDLEY 49 Lewis Blackbird 3 3 R 2 = 8 Dan Greenwood 1 0 2* 2 = 5+1 Paul Starke 1 2 3 3 3 1 = 13 Gareth Isherwood Rider Replacement Ashley Morris 2 2 2* 0 3 = 9+1 Max Clegg 2* 0 1* 3 3 1 = 10+2 Nathan Greaves 3 1* X M 0 0 = 4+1