Eastbourne steadily racked up the points against the Leicester Lions to take a 24 point lead to the second leg of the KO Cup quarter final.
The 57-33 win puts the Fineprint Eagles firmly in the driving seat but offers no guarantees of progression.
Leicester are a compact, fiercely competitive team and reckoned by most to be the stand-out team of the division.
This afternoon, at Arlington Stadium, they were without three regular riders but managed to hang on to the Eagles’ coat-tails until a three 5-1s on the bounce gave the Eagles a decent cushion.
Joint team manager, Will Pottinger, admitted Eastbourne were fortunate to catch the Lions in the midst of an injury crisis and added: “If we cannot defend a 24-point lead on Friday, we don’t deserve to get into the semi-final.
Georgie Wood was the stand-out rider for the Eagles with four wins in his 15 point haul from six rides.
Heatleader Richard Lawson, Edward Kennett and Lewi Kerr, all mixed it with Lions No 1 Scott Nicholls and the fast-trapping Ellis Perks, both former Eagles.
Kennett was not quite as comfortable on his bike as usual, still suffering from two hard crashes at Scunthorpe on Friday night, which caused him to withdraw from the meeting.
Eastbourne: Richard Lawson 12+1, Ben Morley 2, Kyle Newman 6+2, Lewi Kerr 10+1, Edward Kennett 8+2, Alfie Bowtell 4+1, Georgie Wood 15.
Leicester: Scott Nicholls 11, Ellis Perks 9+1, Ryan Terry-Daly 0, Ryan Douglas 7+1, rr for Richie Worrall, Adam Extance 1, Connor Mountain 5.
Next meeting at Arlington Stadium: Eastbourne v Edinburgh, Saturday, July 6, 7.30pm.
Kevin Ling reports
Sussex Speedway squad Eastbourne ‘Fineprint’ Eagles put themselves in firm control of their Knockout Cup Quarter Final tie, thanks to a resounding 57-33 victory over current Championship leaders, the Leicester Lions at Arlington stadium on Sunday afternoon.
A quite superb 15-point return from reserve Georgie Wood was the chief ingredient of the Sussex side’s 24-point first leg success but double figure returns from both Richard Lawson and Lewi Kerr, together with a paid 10-point tally from skipper Edward Kennett, just two days following a brace of heavy falls and a subsequent withdrawal from Eastbourne’s match at Scunthorpe, also added heavily to the mix.
Ever since the Lions wrested a last gasp 1-point victory from their league visit to Sussex, Eastbourne had been eagerly awaiting the Cup tie and the opportunity to redress the balance in some way however it should be noted that a catalogue of misfortune for their visitors in the lead up to the fixture, including injuries to key riders Richie Worrall and Josh Bates undoubtedly blunted their cutting edge.
A busy league schedule on the day also caused problems as it limited the availability of potential guests and the Lions ultimately entered the fray with replacements from the National League in prominent positions and also utilising the Rider Replacement facility in place of Worrall.
Even so, with the likes of Scott Nicholls heading their offensive and with Ryan Douglas and former Eagle Ellis Perks still putting in productive shifts, the Lions still possessed a resilient edge and as a unit they still ensured that the Eagles wouldn’t have things all their own way.
Indeed that fighting mettle presented itself right from the word go as Perks gated to outgun home number one Lawson (winning time 59.4) for an opening 4-2 to the visitors. Indeed the outcome could have been more damaging for the hosts as Nicholls also figured strongly in the early part riding alongside Lawson on bend two but with his partner blocking his path he dropped back allowing the Eagle to move clear.
A restarted heat two, one that witnessed the disqualification of Lions guest Adam Extance following a fall, also saw Wood embark on his top scoring performance with an all the way win (time 59.1). With Connor Mountain getting the better of Alfie Bowtell for second the swift reply 4-2 saw the scores level to 6-points apiece.
Kerr and Kyle Newman combined for maximum points in the third (winning time 59.1) to put Eastbourne in the ascendency, the latter coming under Douglas on the second turn to join his partner for the 5-1 that opened up an 11-7 advantage.
The Lions fought hard to keep things close however, each of the next two races being shared. Nicholls (taking the rider replacement ride) winning well from Wood in heat four (winning time 57.9 – the fastest so far by more than a second) with Kennett, seemingly not comfortable in the conditions following in third.
Kerr produced his second win of proceedings in the fifth in his standard exciting style having squeezed past Nicholls between rider and fence on the first lap back straight (winning time 58.5).
With Eagle one away and gone, Nicholls and Perks concentrated their efforts on keeping Eagle 2 at bay and this they did with Newman trailing the field, the resultant share of the spoils keeping the 4-point disparity, one that now stood at 17-13 in place.
The home side eased further clear of their opponents thanks to a 4-2 as Lawson hit the winning groove ahead of Perks in race six (winning time 58.9). With Ben Morley having got the better of Extance in the early part the advantage moved to 6-points (21-15) but the Eagles knew they would have to redouble their efforts if they were yet to carve out a suitable lead into the return.
Further 4-2s in heats seven and eight moved them further towards their goal, Kennett seeing off the challenge of Douglas in thrilling style and arguably the race of the season so far (winning time 59.9) with passing a-plenty.
With Bowtell hoovering up the odd point at the expense of Ryan Terry-Daley the margin now stood at 8-points (25-17) with that many races left on the card.
The advantage hit double figures as Wood scorched to victory ahead of Perks in the eighth (winning time 59.3) while Morley was able to contain Mountain at the rear of the field.
Douglas grabbed the win in heat nine that his efforts so far had suggested was coming (winning time 60.6) and in so doing he put to an end Kerr’s unbeaten run, the Eagle finishing in third place behind partner Newman.
The home lead now settled at 32-22, just ten-points separating the teams but the Eagles seized firm control of the tie with a triple salvo of 5-1s over the course of the next three heats to extend their advantage to an imposing 22-points (47-25) on conclusion of race twelve.
Wood and Lawson set the ball rolling with a seemingly comfortable maximum in the tenth (winning time 60.3), a race that saw Douglas, somewhat surprisingly, trail in last place.
Heat eleven was certainly one that the Lions were left ruing as the first starting Nicholls clipped the air fence and fell while leading the field. His subsequent exclusion from a second restart (Nicholls previously having been warned to remain stationary at the start) saw Kennett and Bowtell get the better of the hard chasing Perks for the second successive 5-1 (winning time 60.9).
Wood and Newman further strengthened Eagles grip on proceedings with a third straight maximum (winning time 61.4) with Extance and Terry-Daley their unwilling victims and from that point on the Eastbourne approach had to be geared to maintaining the advantage that they had amassed.
Nicholls halted their momentum with a powerful victory at the expense of Lawson in heat 13 (winning time 61.0) but with Mountain ruled out following a fall the Leicester captain could only halt the slide and not make any inroads into the home lead single handedly.
Douglas looked set to make an impact for the Lions in the penultimate race. Few could argue that he ultimately did that but far from the runaway victory that he seemed locked on course for, the impact he made was to bury himself into the air fence on the third bend of lap four. Thankfully he was swiftly up and on his feet but in contrast to the 4-2 that the visitors seemed to be heading towards, the balance turned in favour of the hosts, Kerr grabbing the win (winning time 62.5) with Mountain leading Wood over the line, the 4-2 stretching the margin further to 24-points, now 54-30.
Lawson took the honours in the final race of the night (winning time 60.9) but Nicholls and Douglas did at least combine to keep Kerr at bay, the closing share of the spoils meaning that Eastbourne would take 57-33 to Leicester for the second leg scheduled for Friday 5thJuly.
Eagles: Georgie Wood 15(6), Richard Lawson 12+1(5), Lewis Kerr 10+1(5), Edward Kennett 8+2(4), Kyle Newman 6+2(4), Alfie Bowtell 4+1(3), Ben Morley 2(3). – 57
Lions: Scott Nicholls 11(6), Ellis Perks 9+1(5), Ryan Douglas 7+1(6), Connor Mountain 5(6), Adam Extance (Guest for Jack Thomas) 1(4), Ryan Terry-Daley (Guest for Josh Bates) 0(3), Rider Replacement for Richie Worrall. – 33
Images: Mike Hinves and Tiffani Graveling Photography