Mildenhall Fen Tigers conquer Kent Royals to book cup final spot
- Credit: Derek leader
Mildenhall Fen Tigers - proudly sponsored by Manchetts Rescue and Recovery – made it into the National Development League KO Cup Final after a breath-taking match against Kent Royals at Iwade.
It went to the wire with just four points over the two matches separating the sides going into the 30th heat of this epic semi-final.
And Malcolm Vasey and Jason Gardner’s charges eventually emerged victors by an aggregate score of 93-87, having gone down by six on the day.
In just the second match of his comeback Jack Kingston turned the clock back as if he’d not had a seven-year hiatus by delivering two vital wins in the opening half of Sunday’s match, holding two-time NDL Riders' champion Ben Morley at bay in heat seven and finishing on paid nine.
Mildenhall newcomer Josh Warren gave the finest and most prolific performance of his fledgling career with an incredible paid 12 tally which also included two wins.
That the hosts were really up for the battle was evident from the off, with former Fen Tiger Alfie Bowtell and racing partner Jamie Halder taking a 5-1 in the opening heat.
Fen Tigers’ skipper Ryan Kinsley fought back, passing Halder on lap two but couldn’t catch Bowtell who looked very fast – and set a new track record.
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Heat two was Warren’s first moment to shine, looking very assured on a slick racing circuit to take the twice rerun heat, with teammate Luke Muff having fallen and been excluded.
Kingston won his first away race of his second spell as a Fen Tiger, beating the Royals’ skipper and another ex-Mildenhall man Danno Verge.
But things began to get twitchy after Verge combined with the much-improved Joe Alcock for a home 5-1 in heat five, reducing the aggregate lead to six points.
Kingston’s landmark win over Morley in heat seven owed thanks to Alex Spooner, who kept their fellow former Kent Kings’ teammate Morley back in third for just over a lap, and was followed immediately by a 5-1 courtesy of Warren and Sam Bebee, who came from behind to pass Sam Woolley.
The score at the halfway point on Sunday was 24-24, ensuring the initial 12-point advantage remained with the Fen Tigers.
But the second half of the meeting was destined not to run so smoothly as an engine failure for Spooner in heat 10 and Kingston’s winning run coming to a juddering halt meant a second 5-1 saw Royals into a four-point lead on the day.
Race wins followed from Morley, Verge and the still unbeaten Bowtell, whose heat 13 triumph came in a 4-2 with Morley to cut the gap to six points with two heats left.
Heat 14 looked absolutely crucial and Spooner seemed set for the three points, with Alcock attempting to get past, but over-cooking it on the second bend on the final lap, locking up and falling.
The red lights came on but to the astonishment of the travelling fans and delight of the Royals’ faithful, the referee disqualified Spooner – awarding a 4-2 to the hosts.
The last heat decider saw Mildenhall’s Kinsley and Jason Edwards up against unbeaten Bowtell and Morley, who had just one blot on his record on the day.
But Bowtell wasn’t ready to come out, caught unawares changing a wheel, and failed to make the two-minute warning, so entered the decisive race off a 15-metre handicap.
On a track where passing was difficult, against the likes of Edwards and Kinsley, that was never likely to be a gap he could overcome, with Tigers taking a 4-2 to secure qualification.
Josh Warren said: “I felt really good – I was calm and confident right from the off, getting that heat two win and kicking on from there."
Much had been made pre-meeting about the number of riders in the Mildenhall side with limited or no experience of the notoriously tricky Iwade circuit – yet Warren made light of it.
"I’d actually only ever ridden here once before – at a practice session on the very first day in 2020 after the lockdown when we were allowed out on track again," he added.
"I’ve progressed so much since that those practice laps really bore no resemblance to the way I was today. I’m really happy to have reached double figures for the first time and also the first time I’ve won two races in one match.
"The 5-1 I got with Sam when I was drafted into heat eight was absolutely vital to the team.
"I’m very pleased that all the hard work I’ve put in is paying off. I’d like to thank everyone at Mildenhall Speedway for their support."
The Fen Tigers are back at West Row to face Plymouth Centurions, one of the other new sides in the 2022 NDL, on Sunday May 15, when the campaign to defend the NDL title won by Mildenhall last season begins.