Play-offs appear out of reach after two defeats

Simon Gustafsson and Denis Gizatulin
Simon Gustafsson and Denis Gizatulin

Eastbourne Eagles’ hopes of securing an Elite League play-off spot took a severe dent this week after two crushing away defeats to bottom-of-the-table Belle Vue and league-leaders Poole.

The Eagles had got the week off to a winning start after cruising to a comfortable victory over Belle Vue at Arlington on Saturday night.

However, they couldn’t repeat that success when they visited the Aces’ stomping ground on Monday night, slipping to an unexpected 55-36 defeat.

Then, on Wednesday night, they again failed to pick up any points on the road when they were welcomed by a Poole side currently dominating the Elite League table.

Despite those results, Eastbourne still sit third in the league with two meets to go. However, with Lakeside and Peterborough hot on their heels and with matches in hand, the Eagles’ top-four finish is nowhere near guaranteed.

The Arlington outfit will also be concerned that their remaining two fixtures of the season, against Peterborough and Birmingham, are both away from home.

It’s been the Eagles’ travelling form that has hindered their play-off push this season, recording just two wins and seven defeats on the road so far this season.

That bad record continued in frustrating fashion this week, which has left Eastbourne in a precarious position heading into the final week of the season.

They travelled to Manchester on Monday night on the back of a resounding 61-29 victory over the Belle Vue aces on home shale on Saturday night.

Following that result, the Eagles were tipped to bank some crucial points from their trip to Kirkmanshulme Lane, but their travelling demons got the better of them as they stumbled to the loss.

Despite losing their number one rider Rory Schlein mid-meet, basement side Belle Vue handed Eastbourne a lesson in gating and racing as they ran out deserving 19-point winners.

Only reserve Denis Gizatullin showed any glimpses of form, top-scoring with 13 ahead of Lewis Bridger and Cameron Woodward, who’s disqualification after taking a tumble in heat 10 summed up the Eagles’ night.

After leaving empty-handed from what was perceived to be their best chance of picking up points before the end of the regular season, Eastbourne were then faced with the challenge of heading to high-flying Poole without their number one rider Joonas Kylmakorpi.

Scott Nicholls stepped in as a replacement for the Swede while Ty Proctor also guested in place of Lukas Dryml.

The Eagles did get off to a winning start in the tie after Nicholls reached the chequered flag first to claim a 3-3 in the opening heat.

That was followed up by a reserve race 4-2 victory to hand Eastbourne a momentary 7-5 lead.

However, they couldn’t protect the fragile margin and Poole swiftly turned the score line on its head, recording a 5-1 in heat three to slide into a 10-8 lead.

From there, it just went downhill for the visiting side as the Pirates gradually widened the gap between them and their south-coast rivals.

Despite Cameron Woodward clawing back some points with his tactical ride, last year’s Elite League winners ran away with the victory.

Eastbourne clung to the lifeline of a consolation point but the eventual 12-point deficit denied them even that.

It meant they returned to East Sussex pointless and left rueing missed opportunities from both their meets, which was made all the more frustrating as rivals Lakeside picked up a match point in their 47-43 defeat to Wolverhampton.

Eastbourne now know they must pick up points from their clashes with Peterborough and Birmingham on Monday and Thursday respectively, or risk slipping out of the top-four and squandering a chance at the title.