Eastbourne beat Mildenhall 54-35 in the first leg of the National League Play Off Grand Final at Arlington tonight (October 21).
The Forman IT Eagles take the 19-point lead to the home of the Fen Tigers on Thursday where they will hope to be crowned league champions.
Injury hit Mildenhall staged a rearguard action in Sussex, carefully juggling resources to good effect.
A gripping match unfolded which contained some superb racing.
The highlight was a double swoop by Georgie Wood and Tom Brennan to go either side of the visitors’ No 1, Drew Kemp, in heat 13 and take a 5-1.
In the closing race, they threatened to repeat the result but on this occasion Brennan got out of shape going down the back straight of lap one . Kemp went past and Brennan crashed. He was excluded from the re-run, which was won by Wood.
Earlier, Mildenhall failed to provide finisher in one race in which both Kemp and Kelsey Dugard, guesting for the visitors, both fell and were excluded.
Eastbourne captain Mark Baseby said it was a brilliant result. “We have a 19-point lead. There were a few dubious decisions but that is speedway. Nineteen points up when we go to Mildenhall, I think that is a great lead.
“We know we can do it. It will be all about keeping our heads and doing it there.”
He said the Eagles would aim to get control at Mildenhall. “The best form of defence is attack. When it comes to those crunch heats, I think it is going to happen for us.
“The boys were incredible tonight. They were unreal. It was a bit of a slow start but we regrouped. It was a great night overall.
“We are not counting our chickens just yet. We know what we have to do. We are going there to attack.”
TRAVEL PLUS NATIONAL LEAGUE GRAND FINAL 1st leg
EASTBOURNE 54: Georgie Wood 13+1, Mark Baseby 12, Tom Brennan 10+1, Ethan Spiller 6+1, Jason Edwards 6, Charlie Brooks 5+1, Charley Powell 2+2.
MILDENHALL 35: Drew Kemp 11, Josh Bailey 9+3, Ryan Kinsley 9, Matt Marson 6+1, Kelsey Dugard 0, Sam Bebee 0, Danny Ayres r/r.
It’s a busy week for the Eagles.
On Wednesday they are at Stoke to fulfil a fixture which was postponed in September, they are then at Mildenhall in the Grand Final, second leg on Thursday.
On Friday, the Eagles face Mildenhall (again) at Arlington, this time in a league fixture which was postponed earlier in the year.
Here’s the Kevin Ling verdict on last night’s encounter.
Eastbourne ‘Forman IT’ Eagles National League Play Off hopes remain finely balanced after the competition final first leg at Arlington stadium on Sunday night.
The Sussex side triumphed by a seemingly handsome 54-35 margin against runaway league leaders Mildenhall Fen Tigers but with Thursday’s second leg looming they know that the tie is by no means over and that there is plenty of hard work to do if they are to wrest the Championship trophy they so crave.
The Eagles, of course, won the Knockout Cup against the Suffolk outfit last week but to do so they had to battle back from a 20-point deficit after the Fen Tigers had started in determined style putting that margin in place by heat 10 at West Row.
They will recall, having done it once they can do it again and if so the Eastbourne advantage amassed last night will have been wiped away. Mildenhall know that too and will look to hit the ground running again. The Eagles for their part will channel the spirit and belief shown in the final five races of that encounter when they outgunned their hosts reducing that lofty difference by six-points.
Arguably it was during that five heat spell in Suffolk that the Cup was lost and won.
Following a frustrated opening on Sunday night, the Eagles started to pile the pressure on in earnest during the mid-part of match.
For the home side skipper Mark Baseby, just as he was away to Coventry the previous evening, was in superb form recording an unblemished 12-point maximum to anchor the win.
Georgie Wood and Tom Brennan also stood tall with no fewer than six race wins between them and their combined move to ride one either side of visiting number one Drew Kemp heading into the third bend of heat thirteen to claim maximum points is sure to be enshrined in Arlington folklore as a moment right out of the top drawer.
Elsewhere a solid display was evident throughout the remainder of the team and any one of them could yet emerge as the hero of the hour if Eagles are possibly to defend their lead and take the title.
For the Fen Tigers Kemp looked imperious in his first two outings. However a fall third time out seemed to hamper his progress and he seldom looked so comfortable thereafter.
Josh Bailey and Ryan Kinsley also added well to their tally and the latter’s heat win in the penultimate race could well prove a crucial if they are still to claim the title that their unbeaten league season inevitably suggests that they deserve.
Matt Marson also put in a shift, doing his job in winning heat two and then contributing vital points at various times when covering for ailing colleagues, points that could yet come back to bite Eagles in the overall reckoning.
Heats one and two proved pretty much a carbon copy of the previous showdown between the two sides and Mildenhall effectively had the better of the opening exchanges.
Kemp was an all the way winner of race one, leaving both Jason Edwards and Wood to give fruitless chase and then Marson nipped sharply from the start to claim heat two and a second share of the spoils, behind him Charlie Brooks and Charley Powell combining to outpace Sam Bebee.
The deadlock was broken as Baseby secured the first of his four wins in the third. Eastbourne gated and looked to be on for maximum points but Bailey exploited a momentary lapse by Spiller on the second lap to come under him and limit the damage to a 4-2.
It was all square once more as Kemp drew first blood against Brennan in heat four but the latter made up for a ragged start powering past Marson to grab second. Brooks also gave chase to his opposite number but couldn’t quite get on terms, his race coming to a premature end as he suffered a tumble on the final lap when trying to go under Marson.
Heat five was called back to orders for an unsatisfactory start and at the second time of asking it was the wholly impressive Baseby who stormed from the tapes into a clear lead. With Spiller coming under Kemp to join his partner Arlington was in raptures.
Kemp didn’t seem to be demonstrating any of his usual dash on this occasion and inexplicably he seemed to straighten and ended in the fence when adrift of the two Eagles on the first bend of lap two.
The race duly halted, with Kemp thankfully unscathed, a second rerun was ordered but with Mildenhall guest Kelsey Dugard penalised 15 metres as Eastbourne were holding the 5-1 at the time of the stoppage.
Dugard did his best to come back from the handicap but just as he looked to be making some ground on Spiller he two suffered a fall on the second lap and was ruled out.
Baseby and Spiller then rode unchallenged for the 5-0 that put that same difference in place 17-12.
Wood looked supercharged in winning heat six just a shade outside the National League track record. Bailey blocked Edwards early run and although the Eagle continued to press the Fen Tiger held him off and the resultant 4-2 saw the scoreline move to 21-14.
Brennan took control of heat seven but Kinsley and Bailey combined to fill the minor places, the 3-3 moving things on to 24-17.
Marson looked set to be the Mildenhall hero in heat eight as he led both Edwards and Brooks but the former powered around him on bends one and two and then Brooks having come from the back against Sam Bebee again delighted the home fans squeezing between Marson and the fence on the run in to lap three.
The 5-1 extended the home lead to 11-points, 29-18 but Eastbourne knew they still had much work to do if they are to make it all count.
Baseby did his bit in the next raring past Kinsley heading into lap two and then Spiller found a path past Marson to overturn a potential 4-2 to the visitors into one of their own and with that the advantage moved to 13-points, 33-20.
That was how things stayed following each of the next two races, Wood knew no master in heat 10 but Kinsley and Bailey again combined well to shut out Edwards for a split of the points.
Similarly Brennan took race eleven at a canter from Kemp and Marson but Powell was unable to land a blow on each of the visiting duo.
Baseby was a man on a mission as he swept through on Bailey’s inside on the third bend of lap one then Brooks, not for the first time in recent weeks, brought the house down by stealing third place from Marson on the run in to the finish line.
Then truly a moment of magic followed as Wood and Brennan blasted one either side of the fast starting Kemp heading into bend three to bank a vital 5-1 that saw their lead extend to 19-points 48-29.
Kinsley steadied the ship for the visitors by winning heat fourteen from the gate but the home lead was protected as Spiller and Powell stayed ahead of the chasing Marson.
The Arlington patrons might well have hoped for a repeat 5-1 from Brennan and Wood over Kemp to sign things off. Unfortunately for them it wasn’t to be. Brennan made the start but lifted on the second turn thus allowing Kemp a route through which he duly took.
Brennan picked up the chase but as he rounded the final turn of lap one he parted company with his machine and was subsequently ruled out of the running.
Wood made the start and seized the victory in the rerun and so 19-points (54-35) remained the difference with a further fifteen heats at West Row yet to unfold.
The destiny of the 2018 National League title remains on a knife edge and needless to say anything can and probably will happen on Thursday.
Eagles: Georgie Wood 13+1(5), Marc Baseby 12(4), Tom Brennan 10+1(5), Ethan Spiller 6+1(4), Jason Edwards 6(4), Charlie Brooks 5+1(4), Charley Powell 2+2(4).- 54
Fen Tigers: Drew Kemp 11(6), Josh Bailey 9+3(6), Ryan Kinsley 9(5), Matt Marson 6+1(7), Kelsey Dugard (Guest for Jordan Jenkins) 0(3), Sam Bebee 0(3), Rider Replacement for Danny Ayres. – 35