Workington Comets 44 Sheffield 46: Workington Comets slipped to their first home defeat of the season at Derwent Park on Saturday evening when Championship rivals Sheffield came out on top in a last-heat decider, having fought back from eight points down after just four races to lead with just two races remaining.

With their inspirational skipper Craig Cook racing in Poland for Team GB in the World Cup final, and reserve James Sarjeant injured, the Comets resources were stretched, although augmented by guests Danny Ayres (for Sarjeant) and former captain and number one Ricky Wells, for Cook.

But Cook, the current British Champion and by far and away the best rider in the league, is irreplaceable and his absence proved too big a handicap to overcome as without him the Comets only took the chequered flag on five out of 15 occasions and it was that lack of race wins that ultimately proved costly.

Meanwhile, for the Tigers it was two former Comets, Josh Grajczonek and Kyle Howarth, who topped their score-chart with three race wins each in their double-figure returns on a night where on several occasions the visiting riders came from behind to take vital points from the home riders.

Heat 1 had to be re-run as Wells and Grajczonek became tangled on the first corner causing them both to fall. But the re-start saw Wells lead from tape to flag and with Mason Campton in third place the Comets took an early advantage.

The second heat saw guest Danny Ayres quickly endear himself to the home crowd by coming from behind to undertake Sheffield’s Rob Branford at the end of lap two while there was drama on the last bend as third-placed Nathan Stoneman fell heavily into the air fence to gift Rob Shuttleworth a point and double the Comets advantage.

Heat 3 took three attempts to get under way as, at the first attempt, Sheffield’s Josh Bates was adjudged to have touched the tapes and was excluded, to be replaced by reserve Rob Branford in the re-start.

However, his partner Lasse Bjerre then did the same thing, with him then re-starting from a 15-metre handicap. This played into the Comets’ hands with Proctor and Williamson racing to maximum points, although Bjerre, having passed Branford on lap three, hunted down second placed Williamson but simply ran out of laps to challenge for second place.

Comets asset Howarth raced to his first heat win of the night in the fourth and with Thomas Jorgensen and Shuttleworth packing the minor places the points were shared as the Comets maintained their eight-point advantage.

However, with Grajczonek getting the better of fellow Aussie Proctor in heat 5 while Todd Kurtz held off Williamson for third place, the Tigers were able to cut the Comets lead to six points but with heats 6 and 7 being shared, with Jorgensen and Howarth taking the chequered flag respectively, that remained the situation going into heat 8, which became the second race of the night to be re-run as a result of a first bend incident.

On this occasion it was Campton who was sent sprawling across the track after receiving a nudge from fellow-Aussie Todd Kurtz. Referee Phil Griffin again declared a re-start with all four riders and this saw Kurtz just get ahead of Campton who, despite pressing him throughout, could not find a way through. But, with Branford leading Shuttleworth home for the vital third place the Tigers further ate into the Comets advantage, which now stood at just four points.

Heat 9 saw Proctor and Williamson hit the front but, as they entered turn one for the second time, Howarth forced his way under Williamson for second place but was unable to catch Proctor as the heat advantage extended the Comets lead back up to six points at 30-24.

But that joy was short-lived for the Comets as Wells struggled away from the gate in the next, which saw Bjerre hit the front and although Campton valiantly resisted the pressure from Bates the former double British Under-21 Champion found a way round the Comet on the back straight of the third lap to seal the Tigers’ only maximum heat advantage of the night, which ultimately proved to be a turning point in the match.

Then, when the Tigers gained another heat advantage in heat 11 through Grajczonek and Kurtz the scores were tied at 33-33 and it was the visitors who now had the momentum.

For over three laps in heat 12 the Comets looked set to get their noses in front once more before Bjerre was able to force his way under Proctor on the back straight, while a vital third place from guest Danny Ayres at least kept the scores level.

Heat 13 always looked to be a crucial heat, and so it proved, as Wells led from the gate and held the lead for over two laps before Howarth forced his way under him as they entered turn one for the third time. As Howarth gradually pulled away Wells then had to defend second place from the hard-riding Grajczonek and only just held on as they crossed the finish line in a blanket finish. Meanwhile, a disconsolate Jorgensen was tailed off at the back on a very sick sounding machine as Sheffield took the lead for the first time in the match.

However, for three laps of the penultimate heat the Comets looked set to level the scores once more until Bates was able to drive under race-leader Danny Ayres to share the points and maintain the Tigers’ slender advantage going into the crucial final race.

This saw the Comets needing to take maximum points to win and gain a heat advantage to draw, but once again it was a case of the Tigers coming from behind to take the points as Wells led from the gate until Grajczonek powered under him as they entered turn one for the third time.

Then, no sooner had Grajczonek passed Wells than third-placed Howarth retired, but the resulting shared heat was not enough to save the Comets as the Tigers claimed their third away league success of the campaign by the narrowest of margins.

WORKINGTON COMETS 44: Ty Proctor 11+1, Ricky Wells 8+1, Thomas Jorgensen 7, Danny Ayres 6+1, Mason Campton 6, Matt Williamson 4+2, Rob Shuttleworth 2+1

SHEFFIELD 46: Josh Grajczonek 12, Kyle Howarth 11, Lasse Bjerre 8+1, Josh Bates 7+1, Todd Kurtz 5, Rob Branford 3, Nathan Stoneman 0

Championship points: Workington 0 Sheffield 3