Solid Mildenhall Fen Tigers display conquers Kent Royals
- Credit: Derek Leader
Mildenhall Fen Tigers produced a solid team performance to beat Kent Royals 51-39 in their National Development League KO Cup semi-final first leg on Sunday.
Leading by four points after eight heats, the hosts extended the gap to 14 after a team meeting, before a 4-2 reverse in the nominated riders' race cut it to a dozen for the second leg on May 1.
Captain Ryan Kinsley and man of the match Sam Bebee raced to a 5-1 in heat one, but it was all square at 15-15 after five races.
Sam Woolley fell when unchallenged in third place in heat four, with Mildenhall's Luke Muff also coming down behind him.
Both tried to remount, as Ben Morley and Jason Edwards battled for the race lead, but the referee stopped the race and excluded Muff, with a 4-2 awarded to the visitors.
Former Fen Tiger Alfie Bowtell then led heat five from Alex Spooner, when home debutant Jack Kingston fell in his battle for third with Jamie Halder, which led to another Kent 4-2.
Three successive race wins for Fen Tigers steadied the ship, Bebee beating Morley in heat six and taking the flag again after Edwards had come from the back to take Joe Alcock and return to winning ways.
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And after a break for grading, the hosts took the words of joint managers Malcolm Vasey and Jason Gardner to claim a second 5-1 thanks to Bebee and Kinsley in heat 10.
Edwards got up from a nasty looking fall to beat Bowtell in a rerun heat 11 and two more advantages made it 49-35.
Kingston and Muff were quick away in heat 12, with the former claiming his first win at this level since premature retirement in 2016 as his teammate held off visiting captain Danno Verge for third.
And Josh Warren gated in heat 14 to hold off Alcock, as Spooner claimed a dominant win in another excellent showing.
Morley turned back the clock in a tapes-to-flag success over Edwards in heat 15, though, as previously unbeaten Bebee was kept at the back by Bowtell.
And Gardner said: "We took the opportunity after heat eight to gather together and reflect on the meeting to that stage and discuss what we needed to do to achieve our goal.
"I always felt we needed a 12 to 14-point advantage to take to Iwade and that's what we got in the end.
"It was a carbon-copy of the challenge match with Poultec Select, with an improved second half from all the team.
"Each and everyone contributed. Ryan and Jason delivered vital race wins, Sam gave a truly memorable performance on his 50th match for us, Alex was consistency embodied with a win and no lower than paid second in his other rides. And Jack, Luke and Josh all showed us they can gate and get valuable points.
"All in all, we were very solid but with room for improvement and that's a good position to be in so early into the new campaign.
"We need to go again next weekend, show the same points scoring consistency and get ourselves into that cup final."
Mildenhall Fen Tigers: Ryan Kinsley 7+2 (4 rides), Sam Bebee 11+1 (5), Jack Kingston 6+1 (4), Alex Spooner 8+1 (4), Jason Edwards 12 (5), Josh Warren 4+1 (4), Luke Muff 3 (4).
Kent Royals: Alfie Bowtell 10 (5), Jamie Halder 3 (4), Danno Verge 2 (3), Joe Alcock 5 (4), Ben Morley 11 (5), Chris Watts 0 (3), Sam Wooley 8+1 (6).