Eastbourne ‘Forman IT’ Eagles have all the hard work to do tonight (October 13) if they are to wrest a fourth successive National League Knockout Cup title.
However, they remain well in sight of the prize following a mid-meeting rally that saw them halt a string of Mildenhall heat advantages in last night’s first leg of the match up at West Row, writes Kevin Ling.
The Fen Tigers, unquestionably the team of the season in the third sphere of competition, courtesy of a run undefeated run of league matches that numbers seventeen, carved out a 52-38 victory that surely gives them the whip hand in the tie.
However, such was their dominance in the early stages; the hosts led the Sussex side by no fewer than 20-points after just ten of the first fifteen races.
Had they maintained that momentum, the Knockout Cup would effectively be considered to be all but in their hands.
Nonetheless, Eastbourne, who have forged something of a reputation as Cup Kings throughout the years rallied to produce a sequence of three consecutive 4-2s in heats eleven, twelve and thirteen, thus reducing the Fen Tigers advantage to 14-points.
Impressively the Eagles managed to live with their illustrious hosts over the final nine races, matching them point for point and invalidating Mildenhall’s wrecking-ball points scoring potential.
Certainly it was the home side who hit the ground running, a reserves race 5-1 combined with a trio of 4-2’s saw their lead hit double figures in short order.
Georgie Wood took the chequered flag in good style in heat five but with the Suffolk side providing the first man home in each of the next five races, four of those adding to their advantage Eastbourne could barely land a blow and the writing appeared to be on the wall.
A second race win for Wood in the eleventh, this time with the tenacious Jason Edwards fending off Matt Marson for the visitor’s first heat advantage sparked something of a mini revival.
Josh Bailey suffered a tumble while trying to round Eagles skipper Mark Baseby in race twelve, the rerun realising a second 4-2 on the spin and reducing the margin to 16-points.
Then an exceptional effort from Tom Brennan saw him become the first visitor to lower home hero Drew Kemp’s colour’s in the next. With Wood following close at hand in third place this eroded the home lead to 14-points and suddenly it was back to within difficult, but achievable limits.
The Fen Tigers might have hoped to make amends in the penultimate race but although Jordan Jenkins took the win both Charlie Brooks and Ethan Spiller forged a way past Matt Marson to keep the difference at fourteen.
The final race and Brennan demonstrated how he had really got to grips with the West Row circuit, riding the fast wide line to deny Kemp a second time. Though Bailey grabbed the third place point ahead of Baseby to maintain the advantage, Eastbourne would have undoubtedly been the happier at how the latter stages had unfolded.
With the second leg of proceedings now in prospect and the familiarity of home shale to their advantage the Eagles will keep their eye on the prize and remain confident that they can be the ones to do what many pundits consider to be the impossible and beat Mildenhall over two legs to win the Cup.
Eastbourne are of course one of only two teams to have lowered the Fen Tigers colours in 2018, that being an honour that they share with the Birmingham Brummies who managed the feat earlier in the Knockout Cup competition.
The Sussex men won the National Trophy encounter by a 50-39 margin and they know that to triumph this evening they will have to improve on that achievement.
However, buoyed by their fightback in Suffolk last night, they must remain confident that they can do just that.
Teams: (in alphabetical order)
Eagles: Mark Baseby, Tom Brennan, Charlie Brooks, Jason Edwards, Charley Powell, Ethan Spiller, Georgie Wood.
Fen Tigers: (Rider Replacement for) Danny Ayres, Josh Bailey, Sam Bebee, Jordan Jenkins, Drew Kemp, Ryan Kinsley, Matt Marson.
First race: 7.30pm