Shaleman on Eastbourne Eagles’ chances in tonight’s (Monday) Grand Final climax to the speedway season

EASTBOURNE Speedway take a narrow lead to the second leg of the Elite League Grand Final at Poole tonight (Monday) with the team totally focussed on success.

They won the first leg 49-41 at Arlington Stadium but didn’t take much of a breather at the end of the meeting to celebrate.

It was straight back to business after a ride around on the Lifestyle Eagles’ parade truck to wave to the joyous fans. The whole team went straight into a meeting where they talked tactics for this coming Monday’s meeting.

Speedway riders, unlike football players, tend only to meet up on the day of a match; sometimes only an hour or so before tapes up.

That means there’s little chance to sort out what you need to do when the pressure is to get your bikes ready to race. Therefore, the team knew it was vital to get together before they dispersed across Europe.

The meeting focussed on talking about set-ups for the Poole track, a discussion no doubt led by Bjarne Pedersen who, 12 months ago, was riding for the Dorset side... and what had gone well in the home leg and what had not. It was a meeting like any manager would call when their team faced a vital time.

It just shows how mature the Eagles are this year – as I’ve remarked before, they have taken the saying: There’s No I In Team to heart.

Monday’s meeting was a real tense, thriller, befitting the occasion. The lead changed hands in the opening exchanges before Eastbourne edged in front over the closing stages.

There were a number of key moments. The first came in heat six when Poole’s Darcy Ward fell on the first bend. The red stop lights did not immediately come on – indicating the referee’s initial feeling was that Ward had caused his own downfall.

The Poole rider did not clear the track, forcing the referee to put the red lights on as the other three riders came back past the start/finish line for the first time. A look at the TV replays and the decision was all four riders back – the referee now obviously believing Ward had fallen as a result of first-bend bunching.

The verdict was greeted with derision by the home fans.

When the race finally got going Pedersen got the drop on Ward from the off who chased very hard, turning sharply at times and at other moments trying for a big ride round the outside. Pedersen was as cool as a cucumber and didn’t flinch while his team-mate, Simon Gustafsson, played a waiting game in third place.

He said afterwards that he believed Ward would make a mistake and that would be his moment to strike. Ward did make the mistake and Gustafsson was through for an Eagles 5-1.

And it was Gustafsson again in heat 12 who teamed up with captain Cameron Woodward for a 5-1 and that put Eastbourne eight points in front.

However, the Poole top two of Chris Holder and Ward were out twice in the next three races and home fans feared the worst. But it didn’t all go Poole’s way. Holder scored his fourth win out of four in heat 13 but it was a different story in heat 15. Pedersen trapped and the Poole duo got into all sorts of problems around turns one and two on the first lap.

That allowed Pedersen to hare off at the front and Joonas Kylmakorpi to settle into third place to give the Eagles a 4-2 and an eight-point victory on the night.

Is that a big enough win to see the Eastbourne side crowned league champions next week?

The bookies will say no. Most pundits will say no. Gustafsson admits the Eagles will have to up their game.

But team boss Trevor Geer pointed out that the last time Eastbourne went to Poole, they only lost by two points. It’s certainly going to be a night to remember.