COVENTRY Storm slipped to a shock 44-45 home defeat by Buxton in an eventful Travel Plus National League match at Brandon on Friday.
The Hitmen edged to a first-ever win over the City Gearboxes Storm, home or away, with a 4-2 in a controversial Heat 15 which had seen Coventry’s Liam Carr penalised at the start.
Before that, the Storm were already up against it with unlucky captain Martin Knuckey again forced to withdraw from a meeting.
Knuckey slid off when holding second place in Heat 4, but the greater damage was done in Heat 7 when he was in a clear lead only to inexplicably spin on the final bend into the path of the following riders, with Buxton’s Shelby Rutherford collecting Knuckey albeit thankfully not at full racing speed.
But Knuckey was still ruled out with additional damage to his existing knuckle injury, and the Hitmen appeared strong favourites as they led 25-17, and quite clearly with a good talent for the future in their ranks in rookie reserve Ryan Burton who was highly impressive on his debut Brandon appearance.
A tenacious Storm team fought their way back with Conor Dwyer instrumental as he became the first man to beat visiting captain Ryan Blacklock in Heat 8 and then teamed up with all-action guest Danny Ayres for a match-levelling 5-1 in Heat 10.
Teenage reserve Jamie Halder almost caused a sensation by leading former Storm No.1 Oliver Greenwood for nearly three laps in Heat 11, and with the Hitmen ahead by two points the Storm had a break in their favour in Heat 13 when race leader Blacklock fell on lap two allowing Ayres and Callum Walker to take a 4-2.
But misfortune followed immediately for the home side as, when on a clear 5-1 in Heat 14, Carr’s engine blew at the end of the second lap, leaving Halder to limit damage by taking an excellent win – although a 3-3 did become a 3-2 when Buxton’s Ben Hopwood fell shortly after Carr had pulled out.
That meant the Storm only needed to share the last race to win the match, but there was confusion beforehand with Carr having changed bikes and Buxton protesting the presence of his chain-guard.
The tapes appeared to be broken with the race under starters’ orders, but Carr was in fact deemed to have failed to beat the two-minute time allowance and was sent back 15-metres.
And with Greenwood holding off Ayres up-front, Blacklock covered off Carr’s attack from the handicap to turn the match decisively in Buxton’s favour.
Coventry manager Laurence Rogers said: “To lose after coming back into it like that is disappointing to say the least, but I can’t knock any of my boys, they gave everything.
“I felt the shenanigans before Heat 15 were a disgrace, if they want to win by those means, and I’d love to know what the rigmarole was going on on the phone to the referee to get Liam disqualified.
“That’s why I took (machine examiner) Jim McMillan out with me to say there was nothing wrong with Liam’s chain-guard, but seemingly then he was disqualified on two-minutes, so I’m dumbfounded.”
TRAVEL PLUS NATIONAL LEAGUE COVENTRY 44: Danny Ayres 13, Jamie Halder 9, Liam Carr 8, Conor Dwyer 6+2, Ryan Terry-Daley 6+1, Callum Walker 2, Martin Knuckey 0 BUXTON 45: Oliver Greenwood 13, Ryan Blacklock 11, Ryan Burton 10+1, Shelby Rutherford 5, Lee Geary 3+2, Ben Hopwood 3+1, Steve Jones r/r National League points: Coventry 0 Buxton 3