Eastbourne Eagles returned to the Elite League fray at Lakeside’s Arena Essex stadium this afternoon but despite an impressive opening to proceedings, they couldn’t prevent their local rivals from claiming the three Elite League points on offer, by an eventual 49-40 scoreline.
Returnees Bjarne Pedersen and Adam Shields both recorded impressive scores and Simon Gustafsson also looked well on the pace as the Eagles took an early 4-point lead after three races.
With Cameron Woodward and Lukas Dryml also offering solid support throughout, confidence remained high within the Sussex camp that they would exact some reward from their foray to Essex.
However, with home hotshot Davey Watt in imperious form from the outset and Peter Karlsson also being paid for double figures, the home side gradually whittled away the Eastbourne resolve, amassing a 6-point advantage with just four heats remaining, this advantage then stretching to 9-points by the close.
As the tension started to build, the very first race of the Eastbourne season was subject to a restart after Bjarne Pedersen marked his return to the side with a flyer in heat one. The action was halted with the Dane being warned to remain stationary at the start.
Pedersen showed similar fleet of foot at the second time of asking however, leading throughout from the hard chasing Kim Nilsson, the race being shared after Peter Karlsson worked his way past Timo Lahti in the mid part.
The Hammers looked set to take the offensive as reserve duo Robert Mear and Richard Lawson led from the outset but Lukas Dryml soon carved a way through, battling past Mear on the second turn of lap two before getting the better of Lawson two bends later.
The score tied at 6-points apiece, it was the Sussex side who were about to open up a lead as Simon Gustafsson and Cameron Woodward secured a superb 5-1 over Piotr Swiderski and former Eagle Lewis Bridger in the third, the latter pulling up at the tail end of lap two having lost his steel shoe.
The newly returned Adam Shields just lost out in an epic battle with fellow countryman Davey Watt in heat four. The Eagle led for the large part of the course but Watt was destined to burst past once in sight of the finish line. However, with Denis Gizatullin holding third place from Mear, the visitors 4-point cushion remained intact, the score now shifting to 14-10 in their favour.
The home side hit back swiftly in the next however, Swiderski and Bridger atoning for their earlier disappointment combining for full points ahead of the ever pressing Pedersen to level things up at 15-points apiece, the race not destined to reached a conclusion however with Lahti lifting and dropping his machine on the second bend of lap three calling a premature halt to proceedings.
Shields did just what he looked likely to do two races earlier as he executed a superb second bend to streak past home number one Karlsson and register his comeback win in Eastbourne colours.
With Dryml holding fast ahead of Nilsson to take third, the initiative was back with the Eagles, the 4-2 seeing them lead 19-17.
The 2-point margin remained following the next, Watt taking his second win, this one coming at the expense of Gustafsson. Woodward worked well to keep Lawson at bay, the resultant 3-3 maintaining the visitors advantage at 22-20.
That was all set to change in the next, however, Nilsson and Mear securing a comfortable 5-1 from Gizatullin with Lahti again appearing out of sorts at the rear of the field and suddenly the Hammers were in the ascendency, the scores now moving to 25-23 in their favour.
Bridger got the better of Shields in the ninth to keep Hammers noses in front, but Dryml held third place from Swiderski to ensure that Eastbourne remained in sight of their hosts, two-points still the difference, 28-26 the score.
That margin was doubled in the next however, another on the line pass serving to frustrate Eagles hopes. Gustafsson led from the off but Karlsson quickly got the better of his young compatriot down the back straight to take a controlled win. Woodward moved into second place but Nilsson was yet to have a say for the home side, stealing third place from Gustafsson on the run in to set the scores at 32-28.
Four points then rounded to a half dozen as Watt made it three wins out of three, seeing off the challenge of Pedersen in heat eleven. Though Dryml looked to have third place locked off, the Czech Republican was about to suffer an engine failure within sight of the finish line, this allowing Lawson to snatch the odd point, a 4-2 and an overall 36-30 advantage for the home side.
Heat twelve was certainly not without incident either. Firstly Bridger found himself ruled out of the rerun after causing both Gustafsson and Dryml to take a tumble at the first turn.
A brief time out saw the riders dust themselves down but as the action resumed the Eagles duo led from Mear and looked destined to claim the 5-1 that would have seen them right back in the match.
This time it was Dryml’s turn to suffer a fall, his handlebars apparently snapping as he entered the third turn. With Mear following close at hand and running into him the race was swiftly stopped with the Eagle also excluded.
Lawson deputised for Mear in the second rerun but although Gustafsson duly took the win, the resultant 3-2 only sliced a point from the Lakeside lead, one that now stood at 38-33.
Pedersen looked set to deny Watt in race thirteen but the Australian kept his maximum hopes alive, speeding past the Dane down the back straight the third time around and with Karlsson getting the better of Shields this put the hosts 7-points, 42-35 to the good and in sight of the 3 match points on offer.
Some reward from the penultimate race was essential if the Eagles were yet to take anything from the contest but although Gizatullin threatened out of the start both Mear and Swiderski fought their way to the front by the start of the second lap and the subsequent 5-1 to the home side ensured that the quest for Elite League points was finally over for the visitors.
47-36 was the score as the match entered the final four laps and with the unbeaten Watt again in harness there seemed little would stop the Hammers hitting the half century mark. In the event Watt wasn’t set to feature as Pedersen took the honours from Karlsson with Shields forcing a way past Watt for third and a closing 4-2 for the Sussex side, one that saw them finish within 9-points of their hosts, 49-40.
Hammers : Davey Watt 12(5), Peter Karlsson 9+1(5), Robert Mear 7+1(4), Piotr Swiderski 6+1(4), Kim Nilsson 5+1(4), Lewis Bridger 5+1(4), Richard Lawson 5(4). - 49
Eagles : Bjarne Pedersen 11(5), Simon Gustafsson 8(4), Adam Shields 8(5), Cameron Woodward 6+2(4), Lukas Dryml 5+1(5), Denis Gizatullin 2+1(4), Timo Lahti 0(3). – 40