COVENTRY Storm could take a host of positives from a 48-40 defeat at Cradley in the first leg of the Travel Plus Trophy on Tuesday.
The City Gearboxes Storm gave the National League title favourites plenty of anxious moments on their own circuit and even led the meeting at the halfway stage, with two late-match 5-1s allowing the Heathens to establish their advantage.
It was in stark contrast to the Storm’s visits Monmore Green last season when they went down to a 35-60 loss in the TPT followed by an even heavier 32-60 defeat in the league.
This time they settled much quicker, and although guest Darryl Ritchings was edged out on the line by Max Clegg in Heat 3 to complete a third successive Cradley 4-2, skipper James Sarjeant got the Storm started with a fine ride to pass opposing captain Steve Worrall and win Heat 4.
Luke Crang enjoyed an impressive night and shot from the start to lead Heat 5, and when the Heathens’ Tom Perry went too wide in his attempt to pass him, Stefan Nielsen came through to complete a 5-1.
The home side led by four points going into Heat 8 but Nathan Greaves crashed on turn three and in the re-run Danny Phillips ground to a halt, allowing Crang and Ryan Terry-Daley an unchallenged 5-0 to go into a 24-23 lead.
The advantage was brief as Clegg held Sarjeant at bay in the next race, and there was drama in Heat 10 as Coventry’s Dan Greenwood clattered into Ashley Morris on the third turn – with Greaves also disqualified as he had already come to a stop.
Cradley notched a 3-2 in the re-run with Ritchings re-mounting after falling, but the meeting went away from the Storm in the next two races as the Heathens reserves came up trumps – first with Matt Williamson frustrating Nielsen throughout Heat 11, and then another 5-1 in Heat 12 with Phillips being team-ridden home by Perry.
But the Storm wouldn’t allow the Heathens to pull away fully as Nielsen ended Morris’s unbeaten run with a terrific win in Heat 13, and Greenwood got reward for his efforts by defeating Clegg in the next.
Sarjeant led Heat 15 but the race was re-run after Morris fell on the first bend and was disqualified, and the Storm then had to be content with a 3-3 as Worrall made the gate – but the eight-point margin leaves the tie nicely poised ahead of the second leg.
Storm boss Laurence Rogers said: “I’m very pleased with the performance, and eight points is a margin that I’m sure we can pull back.
“We’ve got to get Martin Knuckey going now, and he’s going to change back to his old frames, but overall it was a good, solid performance.
“Stefan came good at the end, Sarj had some cracking races, and Luke has come on in leaps and bounds when you think that twelve months ago nobody knew him!”
CRADLEY 48: Ashley Morris 11, Steve Worrall 11, Max Clegg 9, Matt Williamson 7+2, Danny Phillips 5+1, Tom Perry 4+1, Nathan Greaves 1. CITY GEARBOXES STORM 40: James Sarjeant 10, Luke Crang 8, Stefan Nielsen 7+2, Darryl Ritchings 5+1, Ryan Terry-Daley 5+1, Dan Greenwood 5, Martin Knuckey 0.
CRADLEY 48 Ashley Morris 3 3 3 2 X = 11 Nathan Greaves 1 M X X = 1 Tom Perry 1 0 1 2* = 4+1 Max Clegg 3 1 3 2 = 9 Steve Worrall 2 3 3 R 3 = 11 Matt Williamson 3 1 0 2* 1* = 7+2 Danny Phillips 1 1* R 3 = 5+1
COVENTRY 40 Stefan Nielsen 0 2* 1 3 1* = 7+2 Luke Crang 2 3 3 0 = 8 Darryl Ritchings 2 1* 2 F = 5+1 Dan Greenwood 0 2 X 3 = 5 James Sarjeant 3 2 2 1 2 = 10 Ryan Terry-Daley 2 0 2* 1 0 = 5+1 Martin Knuckey 0 0 0 = 0