Wolverhampton and Birmingham served up a dramatic play-off derby for a bumper crowd at Monmore last night.
And even though injury-hit Wolves have a two-point deficit going into the return leg at Perry Barr next Monday, they can hold their heads high.
The Monmore men were without key riders at opposite ends of the team. Tai Woffinden and Jacob Thorssell are a big miss and there is little doubt they would be carrying a lead with them fully fit.
Niels-Kristian Iversen changed his travel plans to make a guest appearance for Woffinden but ended up with a hip injury after a horrifying high-speed crash.
But before then he had struggled for points and Nicolai Klindt, in for Thorssell, has clearly lost confidence in his riding as he trailed in last three times – but won his two other outings.
There was some spectacular racing and both sides deserve credit for providing great entertainment for the paying public and the television audience.
Wolves made the worst possible start with a Birmingham 5-1 but bounced back with a maximum of their own in the next. Brummies star Ben Barker was spectacular as always when he passed Robert Miskowiak to gain second in heat three and also got by Adam Skornicki to win the seventh.
Birmingham enjoyed a six-point advantage when Iversen fell when trying to set up a 5-1 with Ricky Wells in heat 10 – and Wells was pipped to the post by Brummies skipper Danny King in a fine run to the line.
Iversen’s only win came in heat 13 as the home side managed to pull level and set up a chance of some kind of lead for the semi-final second leg.
But when Barker teamed up with impressive guest Andrew Tully for a 5-1, Birmingham knew they would hold the upper hand.
Iversen’s crash was unfortunate as Birmingham’s Chris Harris dived up the inside and pulled level with the Dane in the turn. Iversen fell, landed badly and was fortunate to be avoided by Jason Doyle.
The fact that the re-run ended with a scuffle between riders and mechanics in the pits was regrettable but probably influenced by yet another bad crash in what has been a dreadful season on that front.
Advantage Birmingham, then – but stranger things have happened in this unique sporting spectacle.