THOSE pesky Bandits.
For the second time in a month the border raiders from Berwick came down to Teesside, plundered a victory and went home with a swagger, their loot of Premier League points stuffed safely into their swag bag.
It was also a damaging defeat as it plunged a steel shoe through the heart of the Ecco Finishing Bears’ Premier League play-off hopes, surely with fatal consequences.
Last time they visited, Berwick’s victory was something of a shock. This time it was less so.
This time we knew what they could do.
And while the visitors had strengthened by bringing back Alex Edberg at reserve in place of Liam Carr, the Bears had to do without the mercurial Richard Lawson, who was on duty for Elite League parent club Lakeside at Swindon.
Thomas Jorgensen had been lined up as a guest but pulled out of the booking through injury and, with the greatest respect to Theo Pijper who was eventually handed the job for riding at No 1, he was always going to find it difficult to fill Lawson’s boots.
His score of six (paid eight) wasn’t too shabby to be fair and in fact better than The Law managed against Berwick last time the Bandits were in town. But even so you’d have expected the regular Bears No 1 to have totalled more this time.
But the most telling difference was at reserve. While the Bandits’ bottom two weighed in with 14 (paid 16) points, their opposite numbers in the home side managed just five. And all of them came from Jan Graversen.
Graversen looked like he was still being troubled by the back injury which had kept him out of the Bears’ previous two matches while Rafal Konopka underlined the fact he has much to learn.
On the plus side, skipper Aaron Summers had a blinder. He dropped his only point to former Bears team-mate Matej Kus in his opening ride, but went on gain revenge in the final heat, whizzing past as the Czech champion bounced off the back straight fence.
That race was rerun without Steen Jensen who was excluded after Summers hit the deck as the Dane went underneath him, and the skipper’s victory ensured Berwick went away with three PL points rather than the four you wouldn’t have bet against them getting when they led by 10 points with three heats left.
The win was no more than the visitors deserved. After three drawn heats to start the meeting they took a lead they never lost and never looked likely to.
Summers produced a fine blast round the boards to hit the front and partner Pijper to a 5-1 in heat 13 – the second of only two home heat advantages all night – but hopes of an unlikely late revival were dashed when Berwick took the next race 4-2 and assured themselves of victory.
The damage was already done by then. The Bears have often been second best out of the start this season and it was no different this time on a track made slick by hot weather during the day, thereby rendering good gating even more important.
This season isn’t a disaster by any means but there have been a good many downs to go with the ups and this was one of them.
BEARS: Aaron Summers 14, Mark Lemon 7+1, Theo Pijper 6+2, Hugh Skidmore 5, Carl Wilkinson 5, Jan Graversen 5, Rafal Konopka 0.
BANDITS: Matej Kus 12, Steen Jensen 11, David Bellego 9+1, Kevin Doolan 7, Alex Edberg 4+2, Matthew Wethers 3+1, Claus Vissing 2+1.