Reading Bulldogs are through to the Elite League Grand Final where they will be up against the Peterborough Panthers, after a magnificent backs-to-the-wall 51-43 semi-final win over the Swindon Robins on Monday night at Smallmead Stadium.

Reading were dealt a hammer blow going into the meeting with the withdrawal of Greg Hancock due to food-poisoning and with no suitable guests available, the Bulldogs had to revert to rider-replacement. Many in the stadium could have been excused for fearing the worst against a previously in-form Swindon team, but despite the loss of their inspirational skipper, the remaining Bulldogs responded superbly. Reading were behind in the early heats, but they fought back for one of the most memorable victories in the club's 36-year history.

Team manager Jim Lynch was obviously delighted with the result: "It was a hell of a blow losing Greg in the early hours of this morning, but it was an incredible response from the team and I'm so proud of all of them with the way they contributed to this fantastic victory."

Matej Zagar was in superb form for Reading scoring 16 points from his six rides and Charlie Gjedde had a great night against his old club scoring 13.

For the Robins, Lee Richardson scored 13 and Leigh Adams was next best with 10 (paid 11).

Reading looked set to get off to a good start with a 4-2 in heat 1 when Travis McGowan led Adams and Janusz Kolodziej, but McGowan fell on the third lap when Adams challenged for the lead and was excluded from the re-run. In the re-start Adams and Mads Korneliussen cruised to a comfortable 5-1 over lone Bulldog Kolodziej.

The Bulldogs did hit straight back with Sam Simota and Mark Lemon racing to a 5-1 in heat 2, and then Richardson won a shared heat 3 ahead of Gjedde and Kolodziej.

The Robins got their noses in front when Seb Ulamek and Tomasz Chrzanowski raced to a 4-2 in heat 4, and then Adams won a shared heat 5 ahead of Gjedde and Kolodziej, which made the progressive score 16-14 in Swindon's favour.

Heat 6 was a 3-3 with Gjedde taking the chequered flag ahead of Korneliussen and Ulamek, but Reading levelled things up at 21-21 with Zagar and Lemon clocking up a 4-2 in heat 7 over Richardson and Miedzinski.

McGowan made amends for his opening two rides by winning a shared heat 8 ahead of Korneliussen and Chrzanowski, but a hard-fought 4-2 in heat 9 from Gjedde and Kolodziej over Korneliussen and Ulamek put the Bulldogs in front at 28-26.

Heat 10 was a great one for Reading, as some great work on the opening two bends saw Zagar and McGowan link up for a 5-1, which increased the Bulldogs lead to 33-27.

There was drama in heat 11 when Robins top man Adams fell on the first bend and was excluded from the re-run. In the re-start Zagar and Lemon cruised to a 5-1 over Korneliussen, which put Reading into a ten-point lead (38-28) with four races remaining.

Heat 12 saw Lemon and Kolodziej race to a 4-2, which put the Bulldogs further in front at 42-30.

At this point, in a bid to reduce the arrears and save the match, Robins team boss Alun Rossiter elected for Adams to go out in heat 13 as a tactical ride for double points. When the tapes lifted Zagar stormed out of the start where he defeated Adams into second place and with McGowan third, the ensuing 4-4 maintained Reading's twelve-point advantage (46-34) going into the final two races.

Richardson went out in heat 14 as a tactical ride in a desperate final move for the Robins, but the home fans need not have worried, as Gjedde beat the Great Britain international into second place. Chrzanowski was third and although Swindon picked up a 5-3, the Bulldogs had done enough and were finally through to the Grand Final.

Richardson won the final race of the night, but all the excitement was behind him as Adams, Gjedde and Zagar battled for the points, only for Zagar to take second place from Adams on the run in to the finishing line. The Robins picked up the heat 15 4-2, but nobody in the Bulldogs camp cared too much as they ran out 51-43 winners.

The Peterborough Panthers won the other semi-final 52-40 at home against the Coventry Bees at the same time as teh Reading/ Swindon meeting was taking place, which puts them up against the Reading Bulldogs in the Elite League showpiece which starts next week. The first leg of the Grand Final will be at Smallmead next Monday (2nd October, 7.30pm), with the deciding leg at the East of England Showground the following Monday (9th October, 7.30pm).

 

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