This semi-final clash between the Kent ‘Iwade Garage’ Royals and Mildenhall ‘Manchetts’ Fen Tigers went all the way to the 30th heat of the tie before it was settled at The Old Gun Site this afternoon (01/05). Kent were eight points up in the match and four behind on aggregate, so it was 5-1 or bust to keep the tie alive for the hosts.
Then the unbeaten Alfie Bowtell missed the two-minute time allowance for Heat 15 and had to start off a 15metre handicap, this handed a significant boost to the visitors for the last race as all they had to was avoid conceding a maximum heat advantage. Step up Jason Edwards, who took the heat win for the visitors seal the overall victory and book the Fen Tigers place in the final and with former Royal Ryan Kinsley taking the third place point the final score was a 48-42 victory on the day for the Royals, but a 93-87 victory for the Fen Tigers.
The match itself was an intriguing contest as soon as one side got a foothold in the match they were pegged back by the other. Alfie Bowtell lit the touchpaper in the very first race by taking half a second off the long-standing track record lowering the figure to 57.5. Kent had the best of the opening third of the meeting by being six points up after the fifth race through the Bowtell inspired 4-2 in the first race, and after three successive shared heats, Kent captain produced a sublime piece of team riding to usher partner Joe Alcock around the outside and really leave this contest open with 10 heats to go.
However, it was the Fen Tigers who then held the ascendency at the halfway stage, as they took back-to-back heat advantages in Heats 7 and 8 to level the match on the afternoon and restore the overall 12-point lead. Heat 7 saw former Iwade graduate Jack Kingston take a win over one-time Kent teammate Ben Morley and another former Kent rider Alex Spooner claimed his only but vital point of the match. The initial staging of the eighth heat saw Jamie Halder fall on the first turn to earn a disqualification. The restart saw another former Kent rider the on form Josh Warren take a win over team mate Sam Beebe who inherited second place after home reserve Sam Woolley fell but remounted to take the point.
The hosts had a glimmer of hope with five heats to go after Alfie Bowtell took his third win but it was Jamie Halder’s surprise second place over the previously unbeaten Kingston which put the hosts four in front (32-28) with five to go. Two time NLRC winner Ben Morley and Royals skipper Danno Verge took heat wins to maintain the Royals hopes, but the visitors packed the minor placings in both races to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
The Royals raised hopes of a remarkable comeback with Bowtell and Morley taking a 4-2 to cut the deficit to 6 points in Heat 13, before an eventful Heat 14. Alex Spooner hit the front and was leading tenacious Kent second string Joe Alcock. The pair were virtually side by side exiting bend 2 for the final time when Alex Spooner locked up and Joe Alcock came down. Referee, Si Humphrey-Kennett adjudged the situation as the fault of spooner and awarded Kent a 4-2 which set up that final race show down.
It was the second string and reserves that were the difference in the end, or rather one reserve was the difference, as Josh Warren for the Fen Tigers outscored three of the hosts on his own. That being said there are plenty of reasons for optimism as the Royals embark fully on their league journey, the main being this is a side that will grow together.
By Glenn Collins