COVENTRY Storm were left to rue the points which got away as they lost out 42-47 to National League leaders Birmingham at Brandon on Friday.
The City Gearboxes Storm came agonisingly close to ending the Brummies’ unbeaten run of league wins, which now stretches to eleven matches and has them firmly in pole position to take the title itself.
But a last-race 5-1 from maximum man Adam Ellis and sensational teenager Zach Wajtknecht saw the visitors through to victory from an eventful and entertaining match after they had trailed up until Heat 11, and the Storm could point to a number of turning points.
The first of those came in Heat 4 when after a good start to the meeting which had seen Coventry go 12-6 up, Darryl Ritchings fell on turn two in the path of team-mate Conor Dwyer and Birmingham guest Ben Basford, who both came down whilst taking avoiding action.
Ritchings and Basford emerged unscathed but Dwyer, who had been a convincing winner of Heat 2, aggravated his previous rib injuries and was withdrawn, which meant a hectic schedule for youngster Jamie Halder who acquitted himself well on his home debut.
The next race saw Ellis go from a 15-metre handicap after he had been penalised for a second offence of movement at the start, and he showed his class by reeling in and passing the other riders by the end of the third lap.
Having seen their lead cut to two points, the Storm re-built the margin in Heats 7 and 8 as it was the Brummies’ turn to strike trouble with leader Adam Kirby falling in the first of those races as his rivals did well to avoid him - and Basford looped out of the starting gate in the next.
But Heat 10, with the Storm leading 30-24, changed things completely as Wajtknecht and Sam Chapman hit the front, and home skipper Dan Greenwood fell on the second lap as he looked to find a way through.
The re-run saw Coventry’s hopes raised as Rob Shuttleworth led from the gate, but after being overtaken by Wajtknecht he came to grief going into turn three and the Brummies were awarded an unchallenged 5-0.
The visitors edged ahead with a 4-2 in Heat 11 before three successive 3-3s kept the margin at just one point - the first of those seeing Martin Knuckey ride a brilliant Heat 12 to go around first Kirby and then Chapman to take victory.
Watjknecht was squeezed out of Heat 13 by Ritchings and Greenwood as Ellis took his fourth win, and there was more drama in Heat 14 when the Brummies gated on a 5-1 only for Kirby to lose control on turn two and fall again, this time taking Halder with him.
In the re-run, Chapman fended off every attack from the quicker-looking Knuckey, and that meant a 3-3 from the last race would be enough for the Brummies - but as it was, Ellis and Wajtknecht charged away from the tapes and sealed the win with a 5-1.
Watjknecht then ended his night on a high by taking the Bronze Helmet from Greenwood - who had won it at against the same rider at Perry Barr a month ago - with a smart first two bends to again underline his prodigious talent.
Storm boss Laurence Rogers said: “That was one that got away really, and Conor getting injured in his second ride after a good win in Heat 2 really messed things up for us.
“Also the 5-0 to Birmingham in Heat 10 put them in the driving seat whereas previously we were in the driving seat, six points ahead, so it’s a meeting we’ve thrown away.
“We’ve only had a challenge match and a KO Cup match here and you can see the boys are having to learn the track again - they’re rusty.
“Conor will definitely be out of Eastbourne on Sunday unfortunately, so I’ve now got to scout around for another rider, as Callum Walker has a grasstrack meeting in Cornwall, so I’ll be on the phone later!”
COVENTRY 42: Martin Knuckey 10+2, Dan Greenwood 9+1, Darryl Ritchings 9, Rob Shuttleworth 6+3, Jamie Halder 5+1, Conor Dwyer 3, Luke Crang r/r. BIRMINGHAM 47: Adam Ellis 15, Zach Wajtknecht 14+1, Sam Chapman 10+1, Adam Kirby 5+1, Ben Basford 2+1, Alex Wilson 1, Josh Bates r/r.
COVENTRY 42 Dan Greenwood 2 3 2 X 1* 1 = 9+1 Rob Shuttleworth 1* 1* 1* 3 X = 6+3 Luke Crang Rider Replacement Martin Knuckey 2* 2 1* 3 2 = 10+2 Darryl Ritchings X 3 2 2 2 0 = 9 Jamie Halder 1 1 1 1 0 0 1* = 5+1 Conor Dwyer 3 N = 3
BIRMINGHAM 47 Adam Ellis 3 3 3 3 3 = 15 Alex Wilson F 0 1 = 1 Sam Chapman 1 2 2* 2 3 = 10+1 Josh Bates Rider Replacement Zach Wajtknecht 3 3 3 3 0 2* = 14+1 Ben Basford 0 2* 0 F = 2+1 Adam Kirby 2 0 X 2 0 1* X = 5+1