Swindon played their get out of jail card to great effect with a comeback 48-42 win over Rye House at the Abbey on Thursday.
The CFS Filtration Robins are four points clear at the top of the Premiership but they had to do it the hard way after trailing for most of the meeting against the Rockets – and even had to use a tactical substitute at home.
Rye House had been thrashed 59-31 on their previous visit last month, but they put the Robins on the back foot from the start, racing into a 10-2 lead after two races, and they were still eight points ahead after Heat 8.
Robins came on strong in the closing stages and scored 13 of a possible 15 points in the last three heats, but few would deny the Rockets deserved at least a league point for their efforts.
Conceding 5-1s in Heats 1 and 2 was far from the Robins’ initial plan, with Nick Morris and Adam Ellis out-gated in the first race and then Zach Wajtknecht suffering mechanical trouble in the next as he was mounting a challenge on Ashley Morris.
Troy Batchelor and David Bellego gained a 4-2 in Heat 3 with the Rockets arguably somewhat fortunate to gain an all-four re-start when a fall for Stuart Robson brought Bellego down at the first attempt – but when the hugely impressive Michael Palm Toft snatched third from Bellego on the last bend in Heat 5, Kryzsztof Kasprzak’s second win meant Rye House were 19-11 up.
A dramatic Heat 6 saw the Rockets gate on a 5-1 only for Morris and Ellis to both pass Ashley Morris before race leader Scott Nicholls fell on turn four – but if the Robins thought they were back in the meeting, the visitors hit straight back with a 5-1 of their own from Robson and Chris Harris, who held off the challenge of Tobiasz Musielak by a whisker.
Palm Toft surged inside Ellis to win Heat 8 keeping the Rockets’ lead at eight points, prompting Swindon boss Alun Rossiter to replace Bellego with skipper Nick Morris in Heat 9.
The move worked, albeit not without controversy, as Nicholls found himself pinned on the inside and took avoiding action onto the centre-green, the Rockets captain far from happy as Morris and Batchelor scored a 5-1 – which was instantly backed up by another maximum in Heat 10, this time from Morris and Ellis, to make it 30-30.
But Rye House weren’t finished and Palm Toft steamed round Musielak on turn four in Heat 11 to edge the visitors back ahead, and Harris held back Batchelor in the next to keep them narrowly in front at 37-35.
Musielak and Morris gated on a Swindon 5-1 in Heat 13 but a fired-up Nicholls split the pairing on turn four by moving inside Morris to take the meeting into the last two races all-square.
But the Rockets’ hopes were all-but dashed in Heat 14 when Bellego, after a long break since his previous ride, made a perfect start and Wajktnecht popped up to join him in out-gating Robson for a 5-1 which put Swindon ahead for the first time.
That left Rye House needing a 5-1 from Heat 15 to salvage a draw, and although Palm Toft and Harris got past Musielak early in the race, Palm Toft’s chase of Morris ended with a fall on the third lap with the race being awarded – although with Harris in second place, it did mean the Rockets were close enough to take a league point.
Rossiter said: “Everybody kept saying it was going to be an easy meeting, but it just goes to prove you should never under-estimate anyone, and we needed a rocket.
“I certainly never thought it was going to be a walkover, but tonight with no disrespect to Anders (Rowe) we were carrying one rider, and also David until he got it together in Heat 14.
“We’ve just got to start making things easier for ourselves and get dialled in quicker. It was the same at Leicester, it took us eight or nine heats before we decided to make a start, and we can’t afford to do that in this league.
“It’s certainly a wake-up call and we need to be more focused early in meetings, looking at the starts and also seeing what the referee’s doing with the starts.”
Robins are back at the Abbey next Thursday when British Champion Robert Lambert is the star attraction with King’s Lynn.
SWINDON 48: Nick Morris 14, Tobiasz Musielak 10, Troy Batchelor 9+1, Adam Ellis 6+2, Zach Wajtknecht 4+3, David Bellego 4, Anders Rowe 1.
RYE HOUSE 42: Chris Harris 10+1, Michael Palm Toft 9+1, Krzysztof Kasprzak 7, Max Clegg 4+2, Stuart Robson 4, Scott Nicholls 4, Ashley Morris 4.