SHORT-HANDED Eastbourne Eagles came within a whisker of becoming the first team to beat Elite League table toppers, the Poole Pirates in a rain curtailed fixture at Arlington stadium on Saturday night.
The match was halted following heat 12, the point at which a result is allowed to stand, with the Dorset side having opened up what proved to be a 37-35 winning margin.
With heavy rain taking a hold and increasingly difficult conditions starting to prevail there was very little option for referee Dan Holt to abandon the remaining three races, a decision that was reached with the mutual agreement of both Team Manager’s, but it was to prove a wholly disappointing conclusion for the Sussex side who had led for much of the match, a 5-1 race win to the visitors from the unbeaten Darcy Ward and former Eagle Ricky Kling in heat eleven having sparked the turnaround.
The Eagles would certainly rue missed opportunities however, a fall suffered by Cameron Woodward in the fifth, one prompted by mechanical gremlins gifted Kling a point, and the Pirates a 4-2 and then Lukas Dryml, who again suffered ‘just one of those nights’ also took a tumble in race six, the Czech Republican having just battled through into second place to join his partner in a likely looking 5-1 position, one that would have put the Eagles comfortably ahead.
Both sides were missing key personnel, Joonas Kylmakorpi and Simon Gustafsson for Eastbourne and Pirates Adrian Miedzinski were contesting a World Grand Prix Qualifier in Austria while Poole’s Sam Masters was furthering his cause on the World under 21 stage in Terenzano, Italy.
However, with the Pirates dynamic duo of Darcy Ward and Chris Holder, an expertly crafted 23-points between them, well and truly in attendance, it could be argued that the hosts were the greater hit by absenteeism and to those ends could be commended for containing a team at the top of their game and who have now gone fourteen matches, in all competitions, without defeat for as long as they did.
It was indeed the visitors who were to land the first blow with maximum points from the first race, Ward continuing a purple run of form with a fast start and equally rapid finish to heat one, the Pirates joy being compounded as Kling moved past Jason Doyle (guesting in place of Gustafsson) taking the rider replacement ride, out of the final bend out lap one. Dryml also made his way through into third was unable to catch either of the Poole duo.
Race two proffered better fortunes for the hosts however, a similar strike from reserve duo Timo Lahti and Dennis Gizatullin who gated ahead of Ludvig Lindgren and Todd Kurtz levelled the scores at 6-points apiece.
Holder made short work in winning heat three, Doyle and Woodward packing in the minor places behind him to the detriment of Dennis Andersson but it was the Eagles who were soon in the ascendency as a further 5-1 from Lewis Bridger and Lahti in heat four propelled the Sussex side into the lead, one that they were destined to hold for much of the remainder of the match.
Indeed the 4-point margin, 14-10 could well have increased over the course of the next two races but Woodward’s misfortune saw the difference narrow to 2-points, the Eagles Captain hitting the second turn air fence on lap three when a share of the spoils looked the likely outcome.
There was no stopping Ward, who remained comfortably ahead of Doyle but Kling would undoubtedly have been grateful for the odd point and the 4-2 that saw the scores move to 16-14 in Eagles favour.
Nevertheless, the margin might well have increased to 6-points in the next as Woodward, mounted on Lahti’s machine, was an all the way winner of heat six. Dryml forced his way past both Lindgren and Andersson but having glanced round, his machine spun on the third bend of lap one, earning the Czech Republic a justified disqualification.
Woodward made no mistake in the restart and this prompted a run of five successive shared heats as the Eagles kept their noses ahead of the visiting Pirates.
Holder got the better of Bridger in the seventh though Gizatullin did well to round Andersson on bends three and four of the first lap.
Eastbourne would surely have been hoping for more in the eighth but although Lahti continued a wholly impressive run of form, taking a controlled win, Dryml looked to be feeling the effects of his earlier fall and retired from the race having trailed both Lindgren and Kling.
With the scores now standing at 25-23, Holder romped to his third win on the bounce, this one taking the rider replacement ride (for Miedzinski) and at the expense of fellow countryman Woodward. Doyle knew too much for Kurtz however, the latest 3-3 keeping the 2-point margin, now 28-26 in place.
Heat ten and finally one of the turbo twins were set to be mastered. Holder gated to lead but Bridger blasted around him on the run down the back straight en route to taking the chequered flag. The Sussex delight was muted slightly however as Lahti, having missed the start, could make no impact on Andersson, the fifth 3-3 on the spin extending the scoreline to 31-29.
With Bridger out again in the eleventh in was hoped that he would repeat such dominance, this time against Ward, however the balance of power was about to shift as the Australian hot shot masterminded the Poole counter attack by clamping his opponent on the inside line, thus allowing partner Kling the opportunity to roar around the outside and join him at the front.
That was how it remained with Bridger giving fruitless chase and suddenly, with the rain starting to fall in earnest, it was the Pirates who were suddenly looking good, the scores having turned to 34-32 in their favour.
Holder was back to his winning ways in the race that was destined to prove the last of the night, Lahti and Doyle combined to defeat Lindgren for the 3-3 to keep the scoreline tight at 37-35 but with conditions now starting to look impossible the official decision swiftly followed to cancel the remainder of the match, an agonizing call for the Eagles who had fought hard and long to keep their eminent opponents in check.
Eagles Team Manager Trevor Geer remained philosophical over the final result. “I thought if anyone could beat Poole the way they are going at the moment, it would be us here this evening and barring a few moments of misfortune for Cam (Woodward) and Lukas (Dryml) in heats five and six we could have been far better placed when the rain finally beat us after twelve races.”
“We might have been behind by then but had the match continued, I still believe we could have got some sort of a result with Lewis (Bridger), having just beaten Chris Holder, and Timo (Lahti) still to come out, but credit to Poole, they were in front when it mattered most and with the rain taking hold the way it was, there was no other decision than to call the remainder off”.
Eagles : Timo Lahti 10(5), Lewis Bridger 9(4), Jason Doyle (Guest for Simon Gustafsson) 6+2(3), Cameron Woodward 6+1(3), Denis Gizatullin 3+2(3), Lukas Dryml 1(3). Rider Replacement for Joonas Kylmakorpi. – 35
Pirates : Chris Holder 14(5), Darcy Ward 9(3), Ricky Kling 6+3(4), Ludvig Lindgren 6(5), Dennis Andersson 2+2(4), Todd Kurtz 0(3), Rider Replacement for Adrian Miedzinski. – 37