A WIN was crucial for the Buildbase Bees in the battle for a top two finish - and a win was what they achieved despite a tough night with injury and illness.
Olly Allen was ruled out of this incident-filled match with Poole after a tangle with Craig Boyce in Heat 6, but that was far from Coventry's only problem with both Scott Nicholls and Rory Schlein off-colour with illness.
But the determination to take victory against one of their major play-off rivals was certainly there in abundance throughout the team, with important contributions from the reserves and key middle-order man Steve Johnston - whilst Chris Harris came up with the kind of moment that can be replayed over and over again.
The start was far from according to the script, as former Bees No.8 Troy Batchelor made a lightning start from the inside in Heat 1 as Nicholls was sent wide by Pirates guest Hans Andersen, and there was no way back into the race for the Coventry captain as Poole celebrated a 5-1 opening.
Heat 2 saw a typically tough first bend which resulted in Jason Doyle going into the fence, but the re-run resulted in plenty of action with Doyle hitting the front on the first lap before coming under pressure from Billy Janniro. Janniro cut up the inside going down the back straight for the final time, Doyle ran out of room into turn three and suddenly a 4-2 to the Pirates turned into the same scoreline in Coventry's favour.
Visiting skipper Bjarne Pedersen made short work of Heat 3 but Schlein found himself under pressure from Edward Kennett, the British rider coming around the outside off turn two on the third lap. That gave the Pirates a four point lead once again, but this was quickly cut back to two in Heat 4 - Harris took a clear lead ahead of a frantic battle for second place between Doyle and Martin Smolinski, eventually resolved in Doyle's favour after plenty of re-passing. But there was nearly a sting in the tail, as Harris clipped the fence on the last bend and somehow retained enough control of his machine to roll over the line in first place.
Andersen made it two out of two in Heat 5 as Johnston fended off a hard challenge from Batchelor, who made contact with his fellow countryman on the fourth bend but did allow Johnston to wind on the power around the outside to regain full control.
Heat 6 saw the end of Allen's involvement in a particularly tight third and fourth bend battle, the race having started with the Bees making the start but being challenged on the inside by Boyce. As Nicholls lifted entering turn three, Boyce tried to move into first place but overshot the corner and collected Allen's front wheel, who was sent hurtling into the fence.
Although Allen was able to walk off the track, he was ruled out for the rest of the meeting with hand and shoulder injuries, and Janniro came in to partner Nicholls to a 5-1 over Piotr Swist in the re-run to put Bees in front for the first time.
The lead went up to four points with a 4-2 in Heat 7 as Harris established an early advantage on Pedersen, and Janniro rode a good first bend to see off Kennett, who subsequently retired whilst at the back having been given very little room from his team-mate. A further 4-2 followed in Heat 8, thanks to a good ride from Smolinski with Swist holding a defensive line for second place ahead of Janniro. That came, however, after a nasty first-bend incident as Doyle came down heavily going into the corner when sandwiched between Janniro and Smolinski, and hopefully the initial diagnosis that he has escaped with bruising will prove to be correct.
Several riders had encountered difficulty on turns three and four, especially with the effect of the setting sun - but the action switched to turn two in Heat 9 as Schlein tried to cut back inside Boyce but picked up some unwanted drive and clattered into his fellow Australian's rear wheel. The dismount was awkward and there was general relief when Schlein was able to walk back to the pits.
Johnston, though, limited the damage with a tapes-to-flag win in the re-run - his first race victory for the Bees, and that left the scores at 30-24 with six heats to go.
Heat 10 was a fine race in the early stages, with Pedersen finding a gap to go in between Nicholls and Smolinski off turn two - but Nicholls then found an even smaller gap between Pedersen and the fence on the exit of the fourth bend. The Dane was forced to move aside, and behind them Smolinski held a crucial third place ahead of Kennett to put the Bees' lead up to eight.
Shared races in Heats 11 and 12 were exactly what was required to prevent the Pirates from nominating either of their big guns for double points, so it was very much mission accomplished with Harris and Janniro following Andersen home in Heat 11 - although Harris was closing fast by the end - and Schlein and Smolinski then doing likewise behind Pedersen in Heat 12. Janniro was also making use of Harris's second machine by this stage, his own best bike having been damaged in the clash with Doyle in Heat 8.
But Heat 13 will go down as one of the best of the season, as the Bees pulled out a 4-2 in dramatic style. The early signs weren't good as Andersen made the start and was briefly joined by Boyce, with the Coventry riders then fighting their way through into second and third places. That could have been the end of the story - but Harris, of course, never gives up and after challenging Andersen on the inside, he suddenly turned on amazing power around the outside on the last lap to leave his rival almost standing. The ovation which followed was fully deserved - and credit to Andersen too for his sporting reaction.
It was also clear that in Andersen, the Pirates had a totally committed guest, proved by the fact that he was prepared to take a 15-metre tactical substitute ride in Heat 14 - a move the Pirates had not made in the recent Knockout Cup tie. It was certainly the preferred option for the visitors, who were ten points down but with no real option for a tactical substitute ride from the gate.
Ironically Kennett, who had scored just one point to that stage, shot out of the gate - and had Andersen managed to pass both Coventry riders, an 8-1 would have lead to an extremely nervous finale. In the event, he managed to clear Janniro on the second lap but Johnston held on to second fairly comfortably, and Coventry's points were safe.
Andersen completed a thoroughly impressive performance with victory in Heat 15, but Bees were happy enough with second and third places, Harris driving inside Pedersen going into the second lap for the point.
So a night of thrills and spills at Brandon, and Bees will doubtless need to carry out some kind of head-count ahead of the rest of the action this week - but nobody ever said the Elite League was supposed to be easy!
COVENTRY 49 POOLE 42 Monday 30th July 2007 - Sky Sports Elite League B
BUILDBASE BEES Scott Nicholls 0 3 3 1 2 = 9 Olly Allen 1 N = 1 Rory Schlein 0 2 X 1* = 3+1 Steve Johnston 2 1* 3 2 = 8+1 Chris Harris 3 3 2 3 1* = 12+1 Billy Janniro 3 2* 1 1 1* 0 = 8+2 Martin Smolinski 1 1 3 1 2 = 8
CASTLE COVER PIRATES Hans Andersen 3 3 3 2 2^ 3 = 16 Troy Batchelor 2* 0 0 0 = 2+1 Bjarne Pedersen 3 2 2 3 0 = 10 Edward Kennett 1 R 0 3 = 4 Craig Boyce 0 X 2 0 = 2 Piotr Swist 2 1 2 1* 0 = 6+1 Jason Doyle F 2 N = 2