Eagles pipped in dramatic finish

Mikkel Michelsen - picture by Mike Hinves
Mikkel Michelsen - picture by Mike Hinves

Leicester Lions 45; Eastbourne Eagles 44

Elite Speedway League

report by Kevin Ling

So near, yet so far. That was very much the mantra uttered as the Eastbourne ‘Lifestyle’ Eagles were pipped to the post in the final heat of a dramatic encounter at Leicester Lions on Monday night.

The home side snatched a last-gasp 5-1 to win by the narrowest of margins, 45-44, and in the process break the hearts of travelling Sussex fans.

With three races left it was the Eagles who held the whip hand, leading by a seven-point margin, 39-32 and looking likely to end their effective drought for a win on the road that now stretches back in excess of two years.

Sadly it was not to be. Maximum points to the Lions in heats 13 and 15, together with a vital win for recent recruit Nicolai Klindt in the 14th, was sufficient to see the hosts home in the tightest of finishes.

Eagles planning the fixture was undoubtedly disrupted by the news both captain Cameron Woodward and Joonas Kylmakorpi would miss the clash following the previous day’s washout of the latest round of the World Long Track Championship.

However former Eagle Simon Gustafsson stepped up to the plate, turning in a sterling guest performance on behalf of Woodward although Rider Replacement for Kylmakorpi would only realise two points.

With reserve Lewis Blackbird again scoring freely and no lack of effort apparent throughout the team however, it appeared as if their spirit might just see them through.

Leicester would of course have other ideas. They were hampered by difficulties of their own, a fifth race fall suffered by Buczkowski and an exclusion for exceeding the two-minute time allowance and subsequent 15-metre penalty for Simon Stead in the seventh were undoubtedly factors.

However the events of heat ten could widely be considered a turning point in the fortunes of both teams.

At that moment, Eastbourne had just forged a 30-23 lead courtesy of a wholly impressive 5-1 from reserve duo Danny Halsey and Blackbird in the previous race.

No doubt it was needed with the unbeaten Jason Doyle on track alongside Stead in the next but the form book looked set to be turned on its head as Mikkel Michelsen, who had triumphed in his opening race with some style, scorched from the start with Timo Lahti in tow.

The pair looked comfortable heading down the back straight in the 5-1 position but the third bend would spell disaster as the Dane appeared to lose control, wobbled and then slammed straight into the air barrier.

Anxious moments followed as Michelsen received treatment and the ambulance took to the track but thankfully the Danish youngster was able to walk unaided back to the pits though, unfortunately he would take no further part in the meeting.

The Lions duly seized maximum points in the restart to cut the gap to 3-points but Bjarne Pedersen and Gustafsson combined to seize a 5-1 of their own, restoring the 7-point cushion (36-29) and raising hopes that the elusive away win might be realised.

Josh Bates was ruled out of the twelfth having suffered a fall when passed by Lahti down the back straight, Stead took the win in the rerun but it drew Leicester no closer with Lahti and Blackbird packing the minor places.

Doyle and Buczkowski paired up for maximum points against the ever pressing Pedersen in heat thirteen to spark the Leicester fightback. Klindt played his part well in the penultimate race, seeing off the twin threat of Gustafsson and Blackbird in the penultimate race to keep the Lions close at hand. It was left to Buczkowski and Doyle, thus completing a paid maximum, to deny Pedersen once more in the final race, taking the verdict by the smallest possible margin and sending their supporters home delighted.

Lions: Jason Doyle 13+2(5), Simon Stead 9+1(4), Nicolai Klindt 8(4), Krzysztof Buczkowski 7+1(5), Mads Korneliussen 5(4), Josh Bates 3(4), Max Clegg 0(4). 45

Eagles: Lewis Blackbird 10+2(6), Simon Gustafsson (Guest for Cameron Woodward) 10+1(6), Timo Lahti 8(5), Bjarne Pedersen 7+1(5), Danny Halsey 5+1(4), Mikkel Michelsen 4+1(4), Rider Replacement for Joonas Kylmakorpi. 44