Sports review of 2012: Leicester Lions speedway
If the progress made by Leicester Lions last season is anything to go then speedway fans can expect an even more spectacular ride when the new Premier League season revs into action in March.
Lions returned to the competitive arena in 2011 after an absence of 28 years. Expectations were high but results were not and they finished bottom of the table.
During that time, the likes of Sergey Darkin, Richard Sweetman and Richard Hall departed, making way for riders who would step up a gear for the club's second season.
The popular Kauko Nieminen, Magnus Karlsson and Jan Graversen were retained, while rising star Lasse Bjerre, Simon Lambert, Jari Makinen and Simon Nielsen were also recruited.
There was a wave of optimism at Beaumont Park and promoter David Hemsley knew exactly what he wanted.
"We wanted to be competing at the top end of the league," he said. "If we won a trophy, then fantastic, but we needed to be in the top-six play-off places to give our supporters something to get behind."
Karlsson's star-studded testimonial whetted the appetite but what followed was early-season indigestion.
The League Cup campaign resulted in four defeats from five meetings but, when the league programme kicked in, it was a different story, Lions reeling off four straight wins.
"The League Cup was disappointing," said Hemsley. "We made one or two positional changes, pushed riders around, and the results started to come.
"Our win at Glasgow was a major confidence boost and lifted everybody.
"From that point onwards they were setting the standard that we wanted."
In mid-May, Jason Attwood quit as team manager to be replace by track curator Glyn Taylor.
"Glyn's been there, seen it and done it in speedway," said Hemsley.
"He has different ways of motivating a side and brings a different set of skills into the pits. He helped to make Beaumont Park a fortress."
That he did, the Lions winning all their home meetings for the first time in their history.
The season ended with Lions finishing sixth and reaching the play-offs, where they failed to get past Somerset and Newcastle in a tight group.
"You can judge from the riders we have brought back for next season how well I feel they did," said Hemsley.
"The skipper, Kauko, raised his average and he can do that again. Jan, who has been with us since the start, also improved his average and his gating at Beaumont Park was as good as anybody's."
Returning for 2013 are Nieminen, Bjerre, Graversen and Nielsen, with Lewis Blackbird and Lewis Kerr sharing a reserve berth. They are joined by the experienced Kevin Doolan and Adam Roynon.
"Reaching the play-offs is our minimum objective," said Hemsley. "But we really have to challenge for the title and I want us to contest the grand final. A first piece of silverware would be great.
"The riders will be expected to get us there and I won't shy away from replacing any rider who doesn't. But I know this team is good enough to deliver.
"I'm certain as I can be that we will be in the Elite League in 2014. It is frustrating not to be in next year but I think we have done what is best for the sport given the current economic climate."