COVENTRY warmed up for the Elite League play-offs with a 52-38 win over Lakeside in a thoroughly entertaining final fixture of the regular campaign at Brandon.
Victory ensured the Buildbase Bees confirmed runners-up spot in the table, just four points behind their semi-final opponents Poole, and four ahead of Swindon who lost at King’s Lynn.
Danny King showed fine form by winning four of his six rides, whilst skipper Chris Harris put on another masterclass of overtaking, culminating in a thrilling Heat 15 duel with opposite number Andreas Jonsson.
Jonsson and fellow ex-Bee Edward Kennett were both great value for the visitors but in the end it wasn’t quite enough to prevent the Hammers from finishing bottom of the table, a point adrift of Leicester and Wolverhampton.
Lakeside won four of the first six races with Jonsson reigning supreme in Heat 1 - on his first Brandon appearance for seven years - as he moved inside Kyle Howarth on the third lap to take victory, and when he combined with fellow Swede Kim Nilsson for a 5-1 in Heat 6 it completely wiped out the Bees’ early six-point lead.
Coventry’s two race wins at that stage had both been in 5-1s, reserves Jason Garrity and James Sarjeant taking full advantage of Josh Bates breaking the tapes in Heat 2, whilst King and Harris strolled to maximum points in the next.
Kennett rode a superb Heat 5 to go past both Garrity and Howarth, his team pulling level in the next race at 18-18 - but Bees quickly re-established their advantage.
King won Heat 7 with Harris frustrated in his chase of Richard Lawson, before guest Jacob Thorssell held Kennett at bay in Heat 8 as Sarjeant provided third place in another Bees 4-2.
Lakeside hit back in Heat 9 with Howarth coming to grief just as he was passing Lawson, and in the re-run Bates came up with a fine ride to round Garrity off turn two and then hold off a major last-bend challenge from the Coventry reserve.
The Hammers looked strong in Heat 10 but Jonsson was surprisingly relegated to the back as King headed Kennett, and Bees then effectively won the match with 5-1s in the next two races.
Howarth gated and led Heat 11 with Harris supplying the entertainment as he passed Ben Barker early on before charging around Nilsson going into the last bend - and Bates was unable to repeat his previous feat in Heat 12 as Garrity and Sarjeant controlled the second reserves’ race to put the home side 42-30 up.
But some of the best racing was still to come with Harris threading the narrowest of gaps between Jonsson and Nilsson on the back straight to hit the front in Heat 13 before re-passing Jonsson just when the visiting captain appeared to have made his move stick on the inside.
The Hammers took a 4-2 from Heat 14 with King passing Barker on the last lap to prevent a maximum advantage - and that left Lakeside needing a 5-1 from Heat 15 to salvage a league point and move off the bottom of the table.
But the result went the Bees’ way in dramatic fashion as Jonsson led before over-sliding on turn four to allow both Harris and King through. Jonsson, though, chased back and re-passed Harris on turn two of the last lap - only for the Bees skipper to make another remarkable last-bend surge to go back around Jonsson and snatch second spot on the line.
The final 14-point margin was somewhat harsh on the Hammers after the best fixture between the two clubs at Brandon in recent years, but the encouraging fact for the Bees was that all of their regular riders present showed good form with Monday in mind.
King said: “It was a really good meeting, the track was great and although Lakeside pushed us close we fought back and got a solid win.
“We’ve got the important play-offs to come on Monday and we said before the meeting that if you ever want to test anything, tonight’s the night to do it, but on the other hand it was still important to get the win.
“It was a good team performance considering we were without Hans (Andersen) as well as Joonas (Kylmakorpi), and now we’ll look forward to the big one against Poole.”
COVENTRY 52: Danny King 14, Chris Harris 10+3, Jason Garrity 8+2, Kyle Howarth 7, Jacob Thorssell 7, James Sarjeant 6+1, Joonas Kylmakorpi R/R. LAKESIDE 38: Andreas Jonsson 9, Richard Lawson 9, Edward Kennett 8, Josh Bates 5, Kim Nilsson 4+2, Ben Barker 2, Adam Ellis 1.