Brave Great Britain pushed Australia all the way last night but were forced to settle for a race-off place after a stunning night of Speedway World Cup action at King’s Lynn.

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GB finished second, four points behind the Aussies, after a valiant display saw them fall just short of reaching the final at the first time of asking.

Despite being swelled by a vocal home crowd – and determined to excel in Lee Richardson’s memory - the hosts were not favourites at their temporary Norfolk Arena home for the evening.

Australia, many fans’ tip to end Poland’s three-year World Cup domination, looked strongest – even though they were weakened by the news that Darcy Ward was ruled out with a broken hand. He was replaced by Troy Batchelor.

And it looked to be going to form as Chris Holder absolutely steamed to victory in heat one. But it wasn’t long before thousands of Union Jack flags were waving as Team GB came flying back.

First, Tai Woffinden won the night’s next race before some inspired riding that Richardson would have looked down on fondly quickly followed.

The hosts won four races on the spin to open up a six-point lead over the Aussies. Skipper Chris Harris came from third to win his first race, passing Batchelor and Matej Kus on his way to three points. And Scott Nicholls went one better as he enjoyed a real ding-dong battle with Davey Watt in the fourth race.

The lead changed hands between the Brit and the Australian before Nicholls just pipped his Lakeside counterpart on the line for the victory.

The Brits were in such dominant form that the Aussies were forced into playing their joker in heat seven. Former King’s Lynn Stars ace Jason Crump used his knowledge of the track to his advantage as he picked up a precious six points, rather than the normal three, to haul his country back into it.

A see-saw night, that developed into a speedway-based Ashes, took another twist, this time in Britain’s favour, when Holder was excluded for smashing into ‘Bomber’ Harris in lap four of heat 10. GB’s brave skipper was awarded the victory.

The lead continued to change hands but engine failure for Woffinden and an exclusion for Danny King hit the hosts hard in the middle of night with Australia winning both heats.

The Czechs, comfortably third all evening thanks to a dismal display from the Germans – apart from Stars rider Kevin Wolbert – closed the gap with their tactical joker Ales Dryml picking up six points in heat 14.

And just as it looked like Crump and his men had seen off a brave British challenge, tactical Harris roared to a huge win as Neil Middleditch played his joker successfully in heat 17 to keep GB in it.

Woffinden raised hopes of a last-gasp British comeback when he lined up Watt to win a thrilling heat 18 with a stunning last-lap pass. But Holder beat Harris and Crump finished ahead of Nicholls to seal a win for Australia who meet Sweden and Event One winners Russia in Saturday’s final. GB, Czech Republic, Denmark and Poland meet in Thursday’s race-off with the winners progressing to the final.

1 Australia 45 (Crump 15, Holder 12, Watt 11, Batchelor 7)

2 Great Britain 41 (Harris 17, Nicholls 11, Woffinden 8, King 5)

3 Czech Republic 30 (A.Dryml 15, Kus 6, L.Dryml 6, Franc 3)

4 Germany 15 (Wolbert 7, Smolinski 6, Dilger 1, Kroner 1)

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