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WOLVES AT THE DOOR
Hard going for Titans in league and cup
A hat-trick of top three finishes and five major trophies in the space of three years, the juices were certainly flowing for Timperley at the Robinson Arena. A small downturn in SL28, a first season in five without any silverware for the then European champions, but still a fourth place top flight finish. That blip has developed into something more concerning, a battle against relegation looming for Garry Robinson’s side after they were beaten at home by eighth placed Swinton, while a KO Cup exit at the quarter-final stage—unthinkable when the draw was made—is now very much on the cards. Third division rookies Wednesfield have made themselves favourites to reach the semi-finals at the expense of the SL27 winners, the Wolves holding their hosts to a slender 46-44 win in the first leg and at one point were eight up on their top flight opponents. Twice Robinson had to send in tactical substitutes to help rectify the situation, the Toni Lindberg (12+1)/Joseph Bailey (8+2) partnership particularly causing them trouble. The Wolves top four certainly have the ability to finish the job off at home in the return leg, Daz Smith’s side yet to be beaten at the Den in what is their debut season, they picked up 20 and 30 point wins over Dundee and Sunderland respectively at the venue in the earlier rounds of the competition. The demoralising result was followed by an even worse one at home for Timperley in the league, they losing out to Swinton 43-47, a side who has been in the relegation zone for the passed three months. Tobias Schneider, who’d scored 17 in their earlier cup clash, threw in a very rare off day, a season low 4+1 for the German who was defeated by 19 year old Ryan Webb (12+1) in the very first race of the night and later by the Lions other second string, Jussi Rissanen (10+1). The two visiting ‘back-up’ riders raced to five wins between them, with Webb’s second success coming in a last heat decider against the previously unbeaten Brian Bodker (13+1)! All this in a week which had began with an encouraging draw at Eastbourne, they becoming the second side in succession to take a point off the leaders at the Whirlpool with the help of heat 12 and 13 5-1’s, both won by Schneider (16).
A brace of league wins has taken Auckland back up to second in division one and within two points of leaders Eastbourne. Their latest success returned north of the border at Grangemouth, who slip to the bottom of the standings following the 44-46 loss. Heat 11 and 12 5-1’s turned a tight meeting in favour of the visitors, with reserve Kevin Hatch (7+2)—now in his 13th season with the Rhinos—impressing when finishing second to Erkki Arponen (13) in the latter.
Birkenhead’s aggregate defeat to Malmo means for the third time in nine years there will be no British League representation in the European Cup final. The Bombers got to within two points of clearing their ten point deficit from the first leg of the semi-final, but were eliminated with a race to spare when Mark Casey (11) and last weeks GP Play Off round winner Troy Martin (16+1) scored a heat 14 5-1 for the Swedish visitors.
Troy Martin (3) was firmly amongst the also-rans in the first GP round of this years series in Southampton. The Malmo star failing to add any points to the three he scored for his heat four win in the European GP meeting, which was won by Wimbledon’s Jari Annala (13), a rider who had failed to finish on the podium in any of his eight previous GP’s, but did finish fourth on three separate occasions. A last heat win over SL16 and 20 World Champion Thomas Klemmensen (5) saw him break that duck, Sergey Guerk (12)—beaten by Annala in heat 12—having to settle for second as a result. Gavin Gordon (10) finished best of the Brits in third, with defending World Champion Andy Daniel (9) taking fourth.
Another twist in division two with Kingsgate ending the week top after winning at Stone Cross. The Crusaders remain sixth in the tight promotion race after the 42-47 loss, inflicted with a last heat Ari Savolainen (12+2)/Pavel Kulvajt (15+1) 5-0 in a race that neither Dusan Hobler (12) nor Derek Chandler (11) could finish. Stone Cross earlier lost out by two at Sawley despite Hobler scoring an 18 point maximum in that meeting, the in-form Grenadiers went on to record their fifth straight league win at Coleshill, they beating the bottom of the table side 43-47 despite again conceding a last heat 5-1. Pete Watmough’s side end the week just points difference off the top three. In division three a last heat 5-1 took leaders Wednesfield to a 41-49 victory at fellow promotion chasers Burrett Road, the Wolves lead over Sunderland up to two points with the Stars meeting at Birstall having ended all square. Burrett Road had earlier won at Lenton, 44-46.
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