LEICESTER remain very much in the Championship Grand Final after holding Poole to an eight-point margin from Wednesday’s first leg at Wimborne Road.

The Watling JCB Lions will head into the second leg on Saturday with the scores at 41-49 after a much-improved performance on their recent KO Cup defeat in Dorset, to leave them still with a fighting chance of overall victory.

Things could have been even better as the Lions stunned the home crowd by racing into a 26-16 lead after seven races, taking advantage of what were unfamiliar track conditions for the hosts given the recent weather issues.

Somewhat predictably, the Pirates did hit back in the second half of the meeting with track and gate positions more to their liking, but the Lions still dug in to score 41 points on a circuit where they had managed just 30 a month ago.

It was a great start for the visitors, who had regular captain Kyle Howarth watching on from the pits as he serves a period of absence due to illness, and with Garry May deputising for unwell boss Stewart Dickson.

Lions held a 5-1 position in Heat 1 only for home skipper Danny King to fall on the third bend, and in the re-run they were in a maximum position again until Ben Cook retrieved second place from Connor Mountain off the final corner.

But the Lions did gain a 5-1 from Heat 3 with a super double move from Richie Worrall and guest Scott Nicholls who went either side of Steve Worrall off turn two, and the Thompson twins managed to share Heat 4 after Richard Lawson burst between them on the back straight.

Lions doubled their advantage to eight points through Nick Morris and Mountain in Heat 5, and just when Poole looked set to take points back in the next, Cook dropped a chain on lap three and the race ended in a 3-3.

The lead was up to ten points with a 4-2 in Heat 7 as Nicholls controlled the race whilst Worrall defended strongly against Lawson for third place, and at that stage the scoreline was beyond all expectations.

The Poole comeback started in Heat 8 which was somewhat unfortunate for Joe Thompson, who worked hard to pass Zach Cook only to be re-passed and then come down as Mountain charged through on the third lap.

The race was awarded as a Poole 5-1, and they doubled up in Heat 9 as Drew Kemp held off Dan Thompson for a paid win, giving the home side momentum with the gap down to two points.

Lions then defended resolutely with the Pirates gating on a 5-1 in Heat 10 only for Worrall to go round Ben Cook on the first lap and Nicholls to make an excellent inside pass going into lap two.

There was drama in Heat 11 when Mountain came down on the first bend in a clear all-four back decision, and in the re-run he made a good, strong move inside Zach Cook off turn two, with the Poole rider almost coming to grief by running into Mountain’s rear wheel.

Lawson switched inside Morris off turn two to win the race, and a third successive share followed in Heat 12 with Steve Worrall winning the battle of the brothers against Richie, whilst Joe Thompson completed an excellent display by passing Nathan Ablitt for third place.

Lions still led 37-35 but gates were in Poole’s favour for both Heats 13 and 15, and this proved crucial with Lawson and King combining to squeeze out Morris for a 5-1 in Heat 13, whilst Zach Cook produced a big ride for Poole by getting inside a faster-starting Nicholls off the second bend for a 4-2 in Heat 14.

The Pirates again had the preferable gates 2 and 4 in the final race, and Lawson and Steve Worrall took full advantage with a 5-1 over Nicholls and Richie Worrall to leave the margin at eight points.

Stand-in boss Garry May said: “I think eight points is doable. The gates went against us towards the end, one and three wasn’t very good but two and four was, and they had them towards the end.

“Poole were always going to come back, but we did well in the heats I thought we would lose it in, so I think we did better than we probably thought we would have done.

“It could still go either way. I think even Stewart would be happy with eight points, and hopefully we can do it on Saturday.

“It was an honour to do it for him tonight, I’ve known him for a long time and I just want to win the league for him now. That’s the aim, and hopefully the boys will be up for it on Saturday.”

A reminder that Saturday’s second leg gets underway at 6pm and is a double-header also featuring the NDL Grand Final against Mildenhall, with no increase on admission prices.

POOLE 49: Richard Lawson 12, Zach Cook 10+1, Steve Worrall 9+1, Danny King 8+1, Ben Cook 5, Drew Kemp 4+1, Nathan Ablitt 1
LEICESTER 41: Scott Nicholls 9+2, Nick Morris 9, Richie Worrall 8, Connor Mountain 5+2, Joe Thompson 5+1, Dan Thompson 4+1, Max Clegg 1+1


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