COVENTRY Storm went down to a 49-41 defeat at home to Eastbourne in a bruising opening to the Travel Plus National League season.
The City Gearboxes Storm finished the meeting as a five man team as both Ryan Terry-Daley and captain Martin Knuckey had to be withdrawn.
Terry-Daley has been suffering from sickness of late and was unable to continue after two rides, whilst Knuckey was involved in a back-straight pile-up with Eagles guest Ellis Perks in Heat 11.
Although both riders were able to walk away and the referee ruled nobody at fault, Knuckey was ruled out with facial injuries and will be grateful for a two-and-a-half week break before the Storm’s next match.
The most remarkable fact about the meeting was that it went ahead in dry track conditions with regular watering required in an attempt to keep dust levels down – despite the major rainfall of Sunday night into Monday morning.
Eastbourne were well worth their win, the story of the day being of the Eagles’ superior gating, doubtless helped by the majority of their riders having two matches already under their belts from Good Friday.
And although there were never more than two points between the sides across the first nine races, the visitors were left to rue numerous occasions where falls for their reserves cost them heat advantages.
Jamie Halder became the Storm’s first race winner of the season as Charley Powell came down when leading Heat 2 on the last lap, and Dan Greenwood and Liam Carr added wins in their second outings.
Knuckey was overhauled by both Jake Knight and Georgie Wood in Heat 7, both visitors putting in highly impressive performances with Wood snatching second place on the line.
Both were unbeaten going into Heat 10 and although Greenwood succeeded in splitting them, it still doubled Eastbourne’s lead to four points – and with Knuckey then ruled out after the next, the Storm were left needing to give hard-working reserves Jamie Halder and Callum Walker extra rides.
A 5-1 to the Eagles in Heat 12 virtually wrapped up their win, although victories for Greenwood and Carr in the next two races meant the visitors still needed a share from Heat 15 for maximum points.
That looked unlikely from the start as Greenwood and Carr hit the front – but stand-in captain Wood, who had failed to score when the sides met at Brandon last October, held a superb inside line off turn two to take the lead and bank all four league points for his side.
Coventry boss Laurence Rogers said: “In the end Eastbourne were worthy winners, we both had some bad luck, but it’s very early days.
“They were much sharper, but our boys have only been on track once so far, and it did affect us. One plus for us was our two reserves, they improved with every race and they were chasing the big boys.
“Ryan has a chest infection, he could hardly hold onto the bike, and then Martin had a lot of blood coming from his nose and his cheekbone was swollen, so we’ll check on them. He was very unlucky, because I thought he was taken off.”
COVENTRY 41: Liam Carr 12, Dan Greenwood 11+1, Callum Walker 5+2, Jamie Halder 5+1, Conor Dwyer 4+1, Martin Knuckey 3, Ryan Terry-Daley 1. EASTBOURNE 49: Georgie Wood 13+2, Jake Knight 12, Ellis Perks 10, Ben Hopwood 8+1, Charley Powell 3+2, Nick Phillips 3+1, Richard Andrews r/r.
CITY GEARBOXES STORM 41 Dan Greenwood 2 3 2 3 1* = 11+1 Conor Dwyer 1* 1 2 0 = 4+1 Ryan Terry-Daley 0 1 N = 1 Liam Carr 1 3 3 3 2 = 12 Martin Knuckey 2 1 N = 3 Jamie Halder 3 0 R 1* 1 0 = 5+1 Callum Walker 1 1* 1* 2 0 0 = 5+2
EASTBOURNE 49 Ellis Perks 3 2 3 2 0 = 10 Richard Andrews Rider Replacement Jake Knight 3 3 3 3 = 12 Georgie Wood 2* 2* 3 1 2 3 = 13+2 Ben Hopwood 3 2 2 1* = 8+1 Nick Phillips 2 R X 1* R = 3+1 Charley Powell R 0 X X 2* 1* = 3+2