COVENTRY completed a tough week with a heavy 36-55 home defeat against in-form Swindon at Brandon on Friday.
The injury-hit Buildbase Bees had no real answer to a Robins side who put on an impressive display of lightning-fast starting and provided 11 of the 15 race wins on the night.
The result is a major blow to Bees’ hopes of finishing top of the Elite League table, as rivals Poole raced to a 50-40 win at Lakeside to go five points clear - but on this evidence, Swindon have to be regarded as very serious title contenders.
Bees operated rider-replacement for Stuart Robson whilst Danny King rode but was well short of his normal contribution - and the absence of Jason Garrity at reserve was also a huge factor.
Garrity has been to hospital for an x-ray with concerns over the lower part of his spine, and Bees will desperately hope he receives the all-clear to return in time for their hectic Bank Holiday schedule.
With options for guest riders severely restricted due to other meetings and injuries elsewhere, Bees were forced all the way down to No.22 on the Tier 2 rankings list to replace statistically the best Tier 1 rider - but great credit has to go to Kent’s Danny Ayres who accepted the booking at short notice and did himself proud.
It was just a pity that Ayres fell on turn two in Heat 2, but his recovery from that was outstanding as he led Aaron Summers for over a lap in Heat 5 before holding a comfortable second place, and then teamed up with James Sarjeant for a consolation 5-1 in Heat 12.
Sarjeant had a night of mixed fortunes, generally having the better of his opposite numbers but losing out to James Wright in Heat 2 and also falling when well ahead of Wright in Heat 9.
He had also retired from Heat 11 prior to another spectacular ‘off’ for skipper Chris Harris, who was strongly chasing the Swindon pairing, resulting in a Robins 5-0.
The Robins had provided the first six heat winners - their 5-1 from Nick Morris and Troy Batchelor in Heat 3 striking a warning of what was to come, and when King fell in Heat 6 Bees found themselves 12-points down.
Harris went for double points in Heat 7 and got the better of Morris in a thrilling battle with partner Joonas Kylmakorpi out-front, although the pressure from Morris meant switching positions was not straightforward and Bees had to be content with a 7-1 rather than an 8-1.
It gave them brief hope with the gap reduced to six, but Swindon effectively locked up the points with a 5-1 from Darcy Ward and Summers over Kylmakorpi and King in Heat 10 followed by the 5-0 in the next.
Sarjeant and Ayres briefly reduced the arrears to eleven but two more Swindon 5-1s saw them stretch clear before Harris stopped Batchelor from claiming a paid maximum with hard-fought win in Heat 15.
Bees boss Gary Havelock said: “This meeting came at completely the wrong time for us. We came up against a really good team at the wrong time.
“At the beginning of the week I did feel that we would be able to cover for Robbo with rider-replacement, with Walasek guesting and a fully-fit Jason Garrity, but then when it became clear Jason couldn’t ride, because they’d kept him in hospital overnight, I wanted a guest for Robbo but we weren’t able to use the rider I wanted.
“Danny felt good after he had physio earlier, but clearly he wasn’t his normal self at all, and Jason is a huge concern - he’s one of the real heartbeats of this team even though he’s at reserve, and it isn’t the same without him.
“Hopefully it will prove to be something he can work with the physio on over the next ten days or so. We’ve got to re-group, and a lot can change in a few weeks.
“I must also say I think Danny Ayres surprised everyone, he was excellent, and thanks to him for his efforts.”
ELITE LEAGUE COVENTRY 36: Chris Harris 10+1, Grzegorz Walasek 9, James Sarjeant 8+3, Danny Ayres 4+1, Joonas Kylmakorpi 4, Danny King 1, Stuart Robson r/r SWINDON 55: Troy Batchelor 12+2, Nick Morris 10+2, Darcy Ward 10+2, Aaron Summers 10, Grzegorz Zengota 7+1, James Wright 4+1, Rob Shuttleworth 2 Elite League points: Coventry 0 Swindon 4