Swindon are SGB Premiership Champions after an unforgettable night of high drama at Wolverhampton last night.
The Carpets4Less Robins, who had topped the regular league table but faced a four-point deficit from the home leg of the Grand Final, won 47-42 at Monmore Green in a last-heat decider for the narrowest-possible one-point aggregate win.
It was the first time in play-off history that a team had recovered from losing the first leg at home to still take the ultimate prize.
Australian duo Nick Morris and Jason Doyle were the Heat 15 heroes as, requiring a shared race to clinch the title, they successfully achieved the 3-3 ahead of Wolves skipper Rory Schlein to spark wild celebrations amongst the travelling army of Robins supporters.
It had been an all-round display of determination from Alun Rossiter’s side to claw their way back into the tie, remain in contention and then produce the big finish just when it was required.
The early prospects were good as Doyle and Adam Ellis notched a 5-1 in Heat 1 to level the aggregate scores, Ellis quickly getting the better of guest Chris Harris and Kyle Howarth for second place, all of which ramped up the tension at Monmore.
Wolves then looked to have regained control with a run of race advantages including a 5-1 in Heat 3 when Tobiasz Musielak broke the tapes and his replacement Bradley Wilson-Dean came to grief on the last bend when trying to move Schlein aside.
Even though Morris overhauled a fast-starting Nathan Greaves for second place in Heat 4, Wolves had worked their way into a four-point lead on the night, and eight on aggregate.
The teams then traded 4-2s with Doyle and Ellis split by Schlein in Heat 5 as Masters pulled out, only for Howarth to hit back in Heat 6 as Morris again came from the back to take second from Harris.
Heat 7 was shared as Masters got the better of a faster-starting David Bellego, but then facing a 62-70 aggregate deficit, the Robins began to apply the pressure with a series of race wins.
Heat 8 was a big one as Ellis was joined at the front by Wilson-Dean, and after several hard-fought attempts to go past, Howarth eventually fell on the last lap with Swindon awarded a 5-1.
The next two races were shared, with Morris controlling Heat 9 ahead of Schlein and Harris, whilst Musielak took a comfortable victory in the next as the visitors looked more and more comfortable up-front.
Doyle surged into the lead on the first lap of Heat 11, going inside Masters and Mark Riss, and the battle which ensued between Riss and Ellis resulted in Riss falling at the start of lap two, with Ellis also going down slightly later – and both were disqualified as the incidents were deemed separate.
Doyle saw off Masters with a firm lap one inside move in the re-run to put the Robins ahead on the night, 33-32, and that margin was maintained in Heat 12 with another Musielak victory, with a frustrated Wilson-Dean missing out to Schlein on the top bend.
It left Wolves three points to the good overall with three heats to go, but the Robins landed a huge blow in Heat 13 when Doyle made it four wins out of four whilst Morris initially saw off Harris before reeling in Masters and sensationally rounding him going into the final bend for a massive 5-1.
That put the Robins ahead by a point on aggregate, although they had a scare in Heat 14 when Greaves gated alongside Schlein, only for Bellego and Wilson-Dean to bundle their way through by the end of the first lap for a 3-3.
So the full season’s work came down to one race with Swindon requiring a 3-3 or better from Heat 15 to take the title, and all eyes were initially on the referee when Masters fell on turn one, and was given the benefit of an all-four-back verdict.
Wolves had made the better starts on that occasion, but the re-run saw the Robins able to squeeze out Schlein on the first bend, with Morris briefly hitting the front – and although Masters moved through on turns three and four, the Swindon riders were fully aware of the position and dropped anchor in the positions they needed.
Schlein was unable to land a challenging blow and the chequered flag fell with Swindon 90-89 aggregate winners, for a second top-flight title in six seasons – having topped the regular table amidst their remarkable summer run of 17 successive league match victories.
A delighted boss Rossiter said: “It’s unbelievable. Make no bones about it, everybody wrote us off both at the start of the year, and also tonight when they said we had no chance at Wolves.
“But what a team of riders we’ve had this year. They’ve had that something about them, and that’s why they’re champions.
“It starts from Jason as captain, but also with Nick who has been absolutely outstanding this year. I had people telling me they didn’t want Nick in the team, but we stood our ground and he’s ridden superbly this year.
“Adam is riding with a broken scaphoid, but what a start he gave us in Heat 1, and he was unfortunate with the crash in his last ride which could have made things a bit easier.
“In Heat 15 I would have been expecting Rory to have been climbing all over Jason and Nick, but he wasn’t and it took the pressure off a bit – it was just a case of hoping for no engine failures, there was all sorts going through my head!
“I’m so proud of all of them, including Zach (Wajtknecht) who was here again tonight. He was beating heat-leaders before he had that injury in what looked a simple slip-off.
“It’s an emotional night, but I’m doing well, I’m holding it in! I do have to say a big thank-you to my family, and my wife Julie has been immense. It’s an amazing night for everyone at the club.”
SGB Premiership Grand Final, 2nd leg
WOLVES 42: Sam Masters 12, Rory Schlein 10+2, Kyle Howarth 8, Nathan Greaves 7, Chris Harris 4+2, Mark Riss 1, Jacob Thorssell r/r.
SWINDON 47: Jason Doyle 13+1, Nick Morris 11+1, David Bellego 4+1, Tobiasz Musielak 8, Adam Ellis 6+1, Bradley Wilson-Dean 5+2, Liam Carr 0.
Swindon win 90-89 on aggregate.