Swindon’s play-off hopes suffered a damaging setback with a 41-49 defeat to Belle Vue at the Abbey Stadium on Thursday.
Whilst the CFS Filtration Robins remain second in the Premiership table for now, they have raced more meetings than their rivals – and as things stand, they have been plunged into a three-way fight with the Aces and Wolverhampton, with only one of them likely to finish in the top four.
And with Belle Vue’s second away win in two nights putting them in pole position, the reality is that the Robins are now highly likely to need some kind of positive result from their away trips to Wolves and Poole next week.
They could have few complaints over Thursday’s defeat, with the Aces making fast starts at key times, and although Swindon had the majority of race wins the visitors maximised every opportunity.
Two 5-1s in the first five races put the Aces in control, with reserves Dimitri Berge and Theo Pijper gating to maximum points in Heat 2, whilst Brady Kurtz and Steve Worrall stunned Adam Ellis and Tobiasz Musielak in Heat 5.
Robins clawed two points back in Heat 6 after a ding-dong battle for second place between Aces captain Max Fricke and David Bellego, but the move to pair Troy Batchelor as a tactical substitute with Nick Morris in the next race didn’t have the desired effect.
Rohan Tungate made a flying start for the Aces and raced clear whilst Dan Bewley delayed the Robins duo – and although Batchelor made it into second place, Morris could find no way through and the visitors had actually extended their lead.
Swindon battled back with 4-2s in Heats 8 and 9 to cut the gap to four, and they were close to a 5-1 in the latter only for Ellis to nearly hit the fence on turn two and lose out to Fricke for second place.
But after wins for Batchelor and Morris in two shared races, the Aces applied a crucial blow in Heat 12 as Berge popped up with a flying start to join Bewley for a 5-1 over Ellis and Zach Wajtknecht.
Guest Brady Kurtz then held firm in Heat 13 with Fricke’s third place ahead of Morris effectively ensuring an away win.
Musielak and Wajtknecht supplied some late Robins resistance with a 5-1 in Heat 14 to leave the Aces needing an advantage from the final race to take maximum league points.
And they achieved that with the ride of the night from Bewley to surge around Musielak coming off turn four, and whilst Batchelor briefly relegated Kurtz to the back, his fellow Australian re-passed him to maintain the 4-2 the Aces needed.
Swindon manager Alun Rossiter said: “It was very disappointing, but we were beaten by the better team and I really can’t give an answer as to why it happened.
“I’ve said in the past that we do rely on the top five to be firing, and unfortunately the bottom line is that we weren’t firing.
“I just hope this is the kick up the backside that we need. Belle Vue were much quicker out of the traps early on, and we really need to pull our fingers out now.
“It’s an opportunity missed and we’ve made it hard for ourselves, but we’ve got to dig deep next Monday and Wednesday, and hopefully we’ll come out fighting.”
SWINDON 41: Troy Batchelor 13, Tobiasz Musielak 10, Nick Morris 6, Adam Ellis 4+1, Zach Wajtknecht 4+1, David Bellego 4, Jack Smith 0.
BELLE VUE 49: Brady Kurtz 11, Dan Bewley 9, Rohan Tungate 8+1, Max Fricke 7, Steve Worrall 6+3, Dimitri Berge 5+1, Theo Pijper 3+2.