SPEEDWAY: Robins surrender in Elite Final
SWINDON ROBINS dive-bombed to a humiliating defeat in the Elite League Final at Coventry's Brandon Stadium on Monday night.
After a season of almost unparalleled success for Swindon, this 59-34 drubbing, which gave Coventry an aggregate win of 102-83 and their second title in three years, was a huge anti-climax for the hundreds of travelling fans from Wiltshire.
Coventry had been table-toppers in the league, beating Swindon by six points, so justice was perhaps done.
What was bitterly disappointing, though, was the manner in which the Swindon side capitulated.
Of course, one man is exempt from criticism -- Swindon's captain and Mr Reliable, Leigh Adams, whose 15 points proved almost half his team's total.
Adams' colleagues, however, were almost invisible, which was in stark contrast to Coventry's supposed fringe players like Rory Schlein and Steve Johnston, who enjoyed fine nights in the saddle.
A devastated team manager Alun Rossiter just about kept a lid on his emotions thanks to the live Sky Sports cameras, which were dogging his every step.
"Congratulations to Coventry who are fully justified as champions," he said.
"I'm just sorry for the fans that we have put up our worst performance of the whole season.
"When they (the riders) needed to stand up and be counted, they have gone into hiding.
"My Poles (Ulamek, Chrzanowski and Balinski) might as well have stayed in Poland."
And yet it had all started so well for the Robins. Their meagre six-point lead from the first leg was instantly increased to 10 as the fast-starting Ulamek, with Adams protecting his back, gave the visitors a 5-1 win in the opening heat.
Sadly, it was false dawn and a couple of controversial decisions as well as two Robins riders (Lee Richardson and Andrew Moore) failing to finish the meeting through injury, helped the tide turn relentlessly in the Bees' favour.
Balinski, riding for the first time at Coventry, was perhaps a little unlucky to be included Rossiter's Polish brickbat.
Balinski is an exciting rider - with a touch of loose cannon about him - and twice races were stopped when he was in winning positions.
A daring dart up the inner of Scott Nicholls on the first bend of Heat 2, had poached Balinski the lead by almost the length of a wheel. However, the bikes touched and Balinski came down. It looked a case of 50-50, but referee Robbie Perks, officiating in his last contest before emigrating to Australia, saw it otherwise.
He excluded Balinski from the re-run, much to Rosco's annoyance, and with Coventry winning it 5-1, their charge was up and running.
The next key heat was the seventh when the teams lined up at 64 apiece on aggregate.
It goes without saying that you must stay on your bike to earn points but, as he had done in the first play-off leg, Richardson lost control, fell and failed to complete the meeting, having aggravated the groin injury which required cortisone injections for him to compete.
What incensed Rossiter even more, however, was that referee Perks refused to call for a re-run and instead awarded the unfinished race to Coventry 5-1.
A demoralised Robins team lost the next three heats by the same margin to give Coventry an aggregate lead of 16 points, 84-68, from which there was no way back.
Adams pulled off a face-saving win in Heat 11, when nominated as the double-points rider, and Balinski showed some much-needed steel to win Heat 12 in the re-run after another Robins rider, Moore, had hit the deck.
Come the denouement and Coventry fans may have been expecting their top two riders, Scott Nicholls and Chris Harris to seal the home victory. In fact, it was down to the unsung heroes, Schlein and Johnston.
Schlein put the tie mathematically beyond Swindon's reach by winning Heat 13; Johnston came from third place to win Heat 14 in cavalier style and then Schlein claimed Adams' scalp as he won a remarkable fifth race on the night in the final piece of action.
Coventry boss Peter Oakes was quick to praise Johnston's role in the Coventry victory.
Rescued from the potential scrapheap when his Oxford team folded early this year, Johnston has been on the losing side just three times since he joined the Bees.
The irony is that speedway's Mr Nice Guy, Johnston, is a former Swindon rider and still lives in Rossiter's Stratton pub.
Let's hope that at least his rent now goes through the roof.