Poole Pirates on the brink of reaching Jubilee League final after draw at Oxford Cheetahs

POOLE Pirates moved to the brink of qualifying for the Championship Jubilee League final with a nip-and-tuck 45-45 draw at Oxford Cheetahs.

Pirates knew victory on the night would guarantee them a place in the three-team final, with two group matches to spare.

However, they were denied as Oxford rescued a draw to at least mathematically keep their hopes alive, going into tomorrow night’s return fixture at Wimborne Road.

Steve Worrall starred with 12 points, on a maximum for the night before heat 15, while Danny King (10+1) produced a strong final lap to deny Oxford victory.

Both sides boasted full-strength septets, with Drew Kemp and Nathan Ablitt again available for Pirates. There was another tweak to Pirates’ line-up from their win over Birmingham Brummies last week.

Following the updated August averages, Zach Cook dropped down to reserve, with brother Ben back up into the main body of the team.

The night got off to a dramatic start, with three men falling on the opening bend. All four riders were allowed back in for the re-run, after the air fence was repaired, with Worrall taking the honours.

Zach Cook got past Cameron Heeps to win a shared reserves’ heat, before Pirates extended their lead to 11-7. King recorded a tapes-to-flag victory, with Ben Cook settling into the minor placings.

But the score was levelled up ahead of the first track grading pause, as Cheetahs recorded a first maximum of the night. After the race had been stopped and Troy Batchelor warned at the start, the Aussie led home Dillon Ruml in the re-run, the latter having come from the back, past both Richard Lawson and Nathan Ablitt.

Poole got their noses back in front after heat five, Worrall recording a second win of night. But it could have been even better, with Kemp pipped on the line by Aaron Summers, storming from the back in the final lap to finish second.

Lawson and Zach Cook won their respective battles to move Poole 23-19 up in heat seven, only for Oxford to fire back again with another maximum.

Reserve Ruml combined with Paul Starke, the latter having dived up the inside of Zach Cook.

Summers won a shared heat nine, before the hosts got their noses in front for the first time on the night. Starke led from the gate, before Nicholls got the better of Ben Cook and with King left at the back, Oxford bagged another 5-1 to go 32-28 up.

Pirates reduced the arrears as Worrall continued his perfect night, despite a strong challenge from Batchelor, as Kemp picked up a point in third.

Jack Thomas withdrew from the meeting due to injury during the final track grade and was replaced by Heeps in heat 12.

But he trailed at the back as Poole fired in their first maximum of the night to turn the contest on its head, courtesy of Zach Cook and King, to go 37-35 up.

The meeting remained perfectly poised after heat 13, as Worrall notched his fourth straight victory, but the points were shared with Lawson at the back.

And it would all come down to the final showdown, after Ben Cook produced an important race win in a shared heat 14, holding off Summers, with Ablitt’s tough night seeing him finish without scoring.

But Summers went on to claim the vital win in heat 15 as Oxford kept their slim hopes of progressing to the final alive.

Cheetahs looked well-placed to clinch a 5-1 to take victory on the night, which would have moved them top of the group, only for King to produce a brilliant final lap to pip Batchelor and take second. Worrall almost got through for third, but came up just short.

The 45-45 draw leaves Poole top of the Southern group, three points clear of the Cheetahs, knowing if they avoid defeat at Wimborne Road tomorrow night, they will move through to the three-team Championship Jubilee League final.

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