Eastbourne have a mountain to climb if they are to land the Championship Shield.
In the first leg of the final tonight (September 14) they lost 48-42 on their home circuit to Leicester Lions.
The match was nip-and-tuck throughout with neither side able to wrest control.
However, it was the visitors who struck two crucial late blows.
A 5-1 win in heat 14 suddenly gave the Lions the edge and they followed that with a 4-2 in the final race.
It gives them a six-point cushion to take to tomorrow’s second leg (Sunday, September 15) on their home track at the Paul Chapman and Sons Arena.
Leicester No 1 and former Eagle, Scott Nicholls, thrilled the big crowd with some stunning racing in the later stages in which he blew the Eastbourne riders away with full-throttle riding out on the safety fence – combined with superb skill and tactical nous.
The Eastbourne team immediately vowed they would head to the East Midlands tomorrow determined to turn the tie around.
“They did it to us. There is no reason why we cannot do it to them,” Eastbourne’s acting captain Richard Lawson said.
“The track was a little bit greasy but it is what it is. It caught me a little off guard in my first one.
“I struggled a bit and a couple of the other boys did as well. A big thanks to Rory [Schlein, who guested in placed of Edward Kennett who was in a world long track event]. He had a good one.
“It was disappointing really. We should have come out of it with at least a lead. We will have to work on it tomorrow [Sunday].
“We have nothing to lose. A couple of 5-1s early on would get our chances going.”
CHAMPIONSHIP SHIELD FINAL, 1st leg
EASTBOURNE 42: Rory Schlein 12, Kyle Newman 10, Richard Lawson 8+1, Lewis Kerr 7, Jason Edwards 4+1, Nathan Stoneman 1, Georgie Wood R/R.
LEICESTER 48: Scott Nicholls 13, Josh Pickering 9+1, Connor Mountain 7+3, Ellis Perks 7, Ryan Douglas 7, Ty Proctor 4+1, Joe Lawlor 1+1.
The Kevin Ling report
Sussex speedway squad Eastbourne ‘Fineprint’ Eagles have it all to do if they are to yet wrest the 2019 Championship Shield title from the grasp of Section table toppers, the Leicester Lions.
Saturday proved to be another thrilling encounter at Arlington stadium but in the final reckoning it was the Lions who categorically proved that their Championship table top billing is no coincidence as they put themselves firmly in control of the tie winning by a 48-42 margin with their home leg still to follow.
Once again it proved a nip and tuck match up and for the most part it appeared that the contest might end in a draw as the two teams traded blows with no more than 2-points separating them over the course of the first thirteen races.
Then just as the Sussex side might have hoped to seize a slender lead of their own with which to travel to the Paul Chapman & Sons Arena it was the Midland outfit who struck with two late hammer blows to potentially place for them one hand on the title.
The penultimate race saw Lions guest Josh Pickering and wholly impressive reserve Connor Mountain leap out of the starting traps to snatch the only 5-1 of the contest, one that put them four points to the good with just one heat remaining.
The Eagles might have hoped for maximum points of their own to at least force a draw on the night but it was not to be as Scott Nicholls completed yet another stunning ride to pass Eastbourne guest Rory Schlein and wrap up the match for the visitors.
With Pickering also fending off the challenge of Richard Lawson this secured a closing 4-2 for the Lions, one that saw their first leg advantage stand at 6-points.
In truth, there was little argument; it was no less than the Lions deserved.
Eastbourne had battled hard throughout but in the final reckoning Leicester had just proved to be a cut above. The hosts had been well served by guest Rory Schlein (replacing Edward Kennett, absent representing his Country contesting the FIM World Long Track Final), Kyle Newman again put in a great shift to record double figures and the whole team fought but Leicester just did the job that they had to and they did it superbly well.
Nicholls started on a slow burn being headed home in his first two outings but when the chips were down he finished in style with a trio of spectacular, from the back wins. Pickering had once again proved an effective guest for the Lions and Mountain at reserve arguably proved their match winner with a string of telling rides culminating with that 5-1 shared with Pickering.
Ellis Perks and Ryan Douglas also weighed in with wins and Ty Proctor and Joe Lawlor scored crucial points when it counted and that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.
Schlein opened proceedings in fine style for the home side with a determined ride to see off Nicholls (winning time 57.8) and for a moment it appeared that Eagles might be in for more as Jason Edwards gated with him but both Nicholls and Proctor quickly forced their way past to ensure an opening share of the spoils.
Edwards got his reward in the next however, coming home first in an absorbing heat two (winning time 60.3) that saw the lead three riders, Edwards, Mountain and Eagles other guest Nathan Stoneman all jousting for position throughout.
The final run in saw Mountain snatch second place from Stoneman on the line to limit the damage to a 4-2, just as Eastbourne looked set for the maximum but nevertheless it was the hosts who had gained the early ground leading 7-5.
Newman battled with Ellis while Kerr did similar against Pickering but on the final lap the 4-2 that looked in prospect for the hosts turned in favour of the visitors with Perks outgunning Newman while Pickering got the better of Kerr on the final circuit back straight (winning time 58.9).
With that parity was restored at 9-points apiece but it was set to be short lived as the Lions seized the advantage in the very next race. Douglas posted a classy win over Lawson (winning time 59.3) and with Stoneman suffering an early fall (remounting to finish the course) this left Mountain to ride home unchallenged for the third place point and the 4-2 that saw them lead 13-11.
Kerr was electric from the start in the fifth and he showed great speed to deny Nicholls while Newman got the better of Proctor and the 4-2 went back the way of the Eagles and with that it was level pegging once again at 15-15 (winning time 57.4).
Schlein made it two wins out of two as he raced clear of Douglas in the sixth (winning time 58.8) but Lawlor showed his worth by getting the better of Edwards (taking the Rider Replacement ride in the absence of Georgie Wood) for a share of the spoils, this sparking a run of three consecutive 3-3’s (winning time 58.8).
Lawson took a controlled win in race seven in a time of 58.8 but Perks and Pickering filled the minor places ahead of Stoneman and the score line duly moved to 21-21 and with the match almost at the half way mark the Eagles knew that they would have to step up a gear if they were to forge any sort of lead with which to travel to the Midlands.
Newman was an all the way winner of heat eight but again it was the visitors, this time Proctor and Mountain who slotted in behind him to ensure that nothing still separated the teams, the scores now standing at 24-24 (winning time 59.5).
Though the Eagles had enjoyed no fewer than six of the opening eight heat winners, it was the Lions who were effectively demonstrating the greater resilience with the scores still level pegging.
Kerr was first to the chequered flag in race nine but Douglas held firm in second in spite of a race long duel with Newman, the 4-2 ensuring that the home side just had their noses back in front 28-26 (winning time 58.6).
With Pickering inflicting a first defeat on Schlein in heat ten (winning time 58.1) this would prove something of a defining moment in the overall contest as the tide started to ebb ever so slightly in favour of the visitors. Edwards produced a great effort to keep Perks at the back and Eastbourne still led 31-29 but the Lions were just about to bare their teeth once more.
Nicholls produced a phenomenal from the back effort to scorch past Lawson in the eleventh (winning time 58.3) while Proctor saw off Stoneman to ensure that parity was once more restored courtesy of the Leicester 4-2 with the score now standing at 33-33 with just four heats now left on the card.
Newman capped another superb performance winning heat twelve at a canter (winning time 58.8) but again the visiting duo did just what they had to do, Perks and Mountain filling the minor places ahead of Edwards to set the scores at 36-36 with now three races remaining.
Nicholls again demonstrated what a class act that he is coming home ahead of both Schlein and Lawson in race thirteen (winning time 57.9) to keep the sides at level pegging at 39-points apiece, the latter two Eagles at least doing well to keep the chasing Douglas at bay.
Already the hosts might be considered to be staring down the barrel of a gun with the second leg still in prospect but the task that they face became increasingly harder as Pickering and Mountain nipped sharply from the traps in the penultimate race to leave both Kerr and Edwards trailing (winning time 58.6). The resultant 5-1 determined that, barring catastrophe, they would be returning to familiar shale with no deficit to claw back.
Better even for the Lions, Nicholls produced yet another quality ride to swoop past race leader Schlein on the second lap to take the win (winning time 58.6), the icing on the cake for them being that Pickering also pegged Lawson at the rear of the field thereby banking a closing 4-2 for the visitors and with that a richly deserved 48-42 victory with which to travel back to the Midlands.
Eagles: Rory Schlein (Guest for Edward Kennett) 12(5), Kyle Newman 10(5), Richard Lawson 8+1(5), Lewis Kerr 7(4), Jason Edwards 4+1(7), Nathan Stoneman (Guest for Alfie Bowtell) 1(4), Richard Andrews (No. 8) 2+1(3), Rider Replacement for Georgie Wood . – 42
Lions: Scott Nicholls 13(5), Josh Pickering (Guest for Richie Worrall) 9+1(5), Connor Mountain 7+3(5), Ryan Douglas 7(4), Ty Proctor 4+1(4), Ellis Perks 7(4), Joe Lawlor 1+1(3). – 48
We are planning heat by heat coverage of the second leg via this website. The second leg starts at 5pm.
Image: Mike Hinves and Tiffanie Graveling Photography