COVENTRY Storm put in a brave fight to keep their title dreams alive as they slipped to a narrow 52-42 defeat against Cradley in the first leg of their National League Grand Final.
The City Gearboxes Storm fought admirably to give the in-form Heathens their toughest test of the season and set up a mouth-watering second leg at Brandon provisionally scheduled for Wednesday, October 29.
When Cradley, who have been in dominant form throughout 2014, opened up an eight point lead after just two races Coventry’s hopes appeared bleak.
Yet they fought back with James Sarjeant forcing his way past Steve Worrall in heat six to move the Storm within six.
Despite conceding back to back 5-1s in heats seven and eight, Sarjeant added a second place with the first Coventry tactical ride before Stefan Nielsen and Dan Greenwood pounced with a vital 5-1.
Cradley had by this stage been hit by the loss of Nathan Greaves as he aggravated an ankle injury before Worrall suffered a wrist problem when he tangled with Nielsen during the first attempt to run heat ten.
The second Storm tactical ride again yielded a second place – this time Nielsen following home Max Clegg for a 5-3 in favour of Coventry before Sarjeant and Simon Lambert brilliantly shut out Paul Starke in heat 13 to cut the gap to just six.
Two exhilarating races followed with both resulting in Cradley 4-2s meaning Coventry will need to overhaul a ten point deficit on home soil next week if they are to snatch title glory in remarkable fashion.
Skipper James Sarjeant was undoubtedly the star for Coventry as he led by example with a fine showing.
And he believes his side have what it takes to build on a good night’s work to claim a memorable title triumph.
Said Sarjeant: “I think we did a good job to keep them within ten to be honest. I know we lost, but they are really strong at home so that was probably a good result in the scheme of things.
“It gives us a good chance going into the second leg, and I think we can go back to Coventry and get the job done. It’s going to be tough but I definitely think we can do it, so we are all looking forward it.”
NATIONAL LEAGUE GRAND FINAL, 1st leg CRADLEY 52: Paul Starke 13, Max Clegg 11+1, Matt Williamson 9+2, Tom Perry 8+1, Steve Worrall 5, Danny Phillips 4+1, Nathan Greaves 2+1 COVENTRY 42: James Sarjeant 14, Stefan Nielsen 9, Simon Lambert 8+1, Martin Knuckey 6+2, Dan Greenwood 4+1, Ryan Terry-Daley 1, Luke Priest 0
CRADLEY 52 Steve Worrall 3 2 N = 5 Nathan Greaves 2* R = 2+1 Max Clegg 3 1* 3 3 1 = 11+1 Tom Perry 2* 2 1 3 = 8+1 Paul Starke 3 3 3 1 3 = 13 Matt Williamson 1* 2* 3 1 1 0 1 = 9+2 Danny Phillips 2 X 2* T 0 = 4+1
CITY GEARBOXES STORM 42 Simon Lambert 1 3 2 2* 0 = 8+1 Luke Priest 0 0 F R = 0 Stefan Nielsen 1 1 3 4^ = 9 Dan Greenwood 0 0 2* 2 = 4+1 James Sarjeant 2 3 4^ 3 2 = 14 Ryan Terry-Daley 0 1 0 = 1 Martin Knuckey 3 1* 1 1* 0 = 6+2