The Eastbourne Eagles edged a thriller at Arlington Stadium tonight (July 27).
Somerset Rebels pushed them all the way but the Fineprint Eagles squeezed home 45-44 after 15 heats of dramatic speedway.
First the home side held the upper hand. Then the visitors struck back with two 5-1s in heats 11 and 12 to edge into the lead.
It was then that home star Richard Lawson played a pivotal role.
When the chips were down, the Eagles Evesham-based flyer recorded a crucial win in heat 13 against the free scoring Rory Schlein and Chris ‘Bomber’ Harris.
It secured a drawn heat but the Eagles were still 39-38 adrift.
Heat 14 was crucial as Lewi Kerr scorched to victory with reserve Alfie Bowtell scoring a vital third for a 4-2 which edged the Eagles to a 42-41 lead.
Anything could still have happened in the final race but it was the Eagles who drew first blood as Kerr and Lawson flew down the back straight, leaving the Somerset pairing at the back.
Near the end of the first lap, Harris crashed on the fourth bend. The race was stopped and he was excluded.
In the re-run Schlein, got the drop from the tapes and the Eagles’ duo settled into second and third knowing that would net three points and the Eagles overall victory.
NEXT SATURDAY: The Big One. Eagles v Glasgow, Championship semi-final, 2nd leg at Arlington Stadium, 7.30pm. Don’t miss what will be a night of high drama.
Co-promoter Trevor Geer said: “It was an excellent meeting and a great result for us against a very good team. They are solid throughout and they all seem to ride Eastbourne very well.
“We missed Georgie Wood tonight with his seven day ban [imposed by the SCB because he missed an Isle of Wight match through illness]. The rest of the boys dug in and did a good job.”
Geer admitted he thought the Eagles had thrown the match away when they conceded two 5-1s in successive heats.
“We came back in the last three heats and salvaged it.
“Richard Lawson rode a great race in heat 13. He normally brings it out of the bag when we need it and he certainly did there.”
EASTBOURNE 45: Lewis Kerr 11+1, Richard Lawson 11, Edward Kennett 8+1, Kyle Newman 7+2, Alfie Bowtell 7, Jason Edwards 1+1, Georgie Wood R/R.
SOMERSET 44: Rory Schlein 13, Anders Rowe 11+1, Chris Harris 10+2, Ben Barker 7, Todd Kurtz 2+1, Henry Atkins 1+1, Valentin Grobauer R/R.
The detailed match report by Kevin Ling:
Eastbourne ‘Fineprint’ Eagles survived both the weather and the fierce challenge of the visiting Somerset Rebels to emerge victorious by the slenderest of margins in a thriller of a Speedway meeting at Arlington stadium on Saturday night.
The Sussex side survived an impressive late meeting rally by the Rebels to win the tense contest by just one-point, 45-44 to send the substantial crowd of Arlington patrons home happy.
The course of the match had ebbed and flowed and in stark contrast to their Championship Shield visit when they were somewhat humbled to the tune of a 63-27 defeat, the visitors provided stern resistance throughout.
Providing no fewer than four of the opening five heat winners Somerset showed their hand right from the word go. Number one Rory Schlein won three of his five outings and former British Grand Prix winner provided solid support. Ben Barker put in a shift as a guest replacement for the injured Nico Covatti whilst Anders Rowe turned in an inspired performance from the reserve that often threatened and could quite possibly have turned the match the Rebels way.
The teams traded a couple of 4-2’s in the early part, Eagles in heat one with Somerset replying in kind in the fourth however the match remained deadlocked until the end of heat seven.
Eastbourne nosed ahead with a 3-2 in an eventful and incident packed eighth race, and then a 4-2 in the heat following preceding maximum points in the tenth offered the hosts some breathing space and with the scores now standing at 33-26 it was considered that the Eagles would run down the clock and hold on for the win.
Not so however, the Rebels hit back immediately Schlein and Harris (taking the tactical substitute ride) claiming maximum points of their own from the chasing Richard Lawson but it was the next race that effectively turned the match and potential destiny of the points on its head.
Rowe romped to the second of his two wins but with Todd Kurtz choosing that moment to join the party a second 5-1 put the visitors right back in sight of victory that would have proved their second in a week following their mid-week 47-43 triumph at Birmingham.
A pulsating finish would see the Eagles claw their way back into the ascendency however, an all-important 4-2 and a fine race win for Lewi Kerr in penultimate heat being sufficient to ultimately see them home with finely crafted shares of the spoils in each of the races either side.
Edward Kennett looked in imperious form in winning heat one. The Eagles actually gated on a 5-1 with Alfie Bowtell also leading Schlein. The Australian swiftly made his move shooting inside the Eastbourne reserve down the back straight. He gave chase to Kennett and although there was little to separate them at the end he couldn’t prevent the Eagles Captain coming home in a time of 57.0, Bowtell getting the better of Kurtz for the opening 4-2 to the hosts.
With the home duo gating together the signs appeared fair that Eastbourne might add to their lead; however one determined drive later that took him first past home debut boy Jason Edwards, then Bowtell in turn and Rowe had announced his arrival on the scene. He continued to secure an impressive win (winning time 58.6) with the Eagles filling the minor places for a share of the spoils.
Barker received a warning to remain stationary at the start of heat three but as the action got underway a second time the Rebels guest would again hit the front making the most of a slip from Kerr that saw him lock up on the second turn. With Newman containing Henry Atkins for the odd point, a second 3-3 followed with the home side still holding onto that early lead which now stood at 10-8 (winning time 58.2).
Heat four saw the Bomber leap from the start to head Lawson into the first turn. Try though he might the Eagle was just unable to get on terms with the Rebels skipper who came home in a time of 57.0. With Rowe heading Edwards for a second time the resultant 4-2 saw the scores level at 12-points apiece and already it was apparent that the visitors would not prove quite the whipping boys that they might have appeared on their previous visit.
With Kerr again taking the wide line and locking up on the second bend of heat five, an opening gratefully exploited by Schlein who blazed through to bag Somerset’s fourth win in five (winning time 57.8). Newman was able to fend off Kurtz for the split of the points and the score line remained level at 15-15.
Harris might well have bagged a fifth successive win for the visitors as he had his gating boots on again in heat six, however Kennett wasn’t having any of it, rounding the Bomber out of the second turn and riding around the boards to secure his second consecutive win (winning time 57.7). With Rowe winning his personal battle with Edwards with a third taming this saw the score line still deadlocked at 18-points apiece.
Bowtell found himself excluded having picked up speed and piled into the second turn air fence. Thankfully he was up and okay but this left Lawson to fight the good fight alone against Barker and Atkins. This he duly did and succeeded in taking the victory (winning time 58.6) that realised a third consecutive 3-3 and an overall 21-21 score line.
Incident packed might be considered a worthy literal description of heat eight; firstly all four riders were called back under orders with a warning being issued to Newman to remain stationary at the start line.
The second running witnessed an untidy first turn with Bowtell and Rowe coming together, the latter falling with Kurtz also taking a tumble. Both Rebels were thankfully up on their feet and although by their actions they seemed to suggest that the Eagle be ruled out, a second restart with all four riders was swiftly ordered by the match official.
The third time of asking saw Kurtz power into an early lead and this time the race would almost see a lap completed but Bowtell drove hard under his opponent and though no contact seemed to be made the Somerset rider found himself in the fourth bend air fence. Kurtz was duly ruled out and the remaining three found themselves back at the starting tapes for a third time.
Finally it appeared that Eastbourne might claim the win that would see them lead. This they in fact did but not necessarily in the way they would have liked. This one saw the Eagles gate on a 5-1 but as they came round the final two bends of the second lap Bowtell lost control and came down having hit the air fence exiting turn four. At this point the official had seen enough and the race was awarded with Newman taking the win and Rowe second, the 3-2 seeing the dead lock broken with Eastbourne edging ahead 24-23.
Kerr romped to a fine win over Harris in race nine (winning time 58.1) and with Newman also getting the better of Atkins for the 4-2, further daylight emerged with Eagles now extending the lead to 3-points 28-25.
It looked to be getting all the easier for the Sussex side as Bowtell and Kennett then combined to claim maximum points. Barker stormed into an early lead but he took a tumble on the second turn. Kennett slowed and clearly thought a rerun was in prospect but the Rebels guest rose to continue. With Bowtell heading Rowe then Kennett gave fresh chase rounding Rowe on the back straight to adopt the 5-1 position. As the Eastbourne duo approached the finish line the Captain slowed allowing his team mate to bag the win (winning time 61.0) and with that a progressive 33-26 advantage.
With the margin now standing at 7-points the Somerset hierarchy moved swiftly to plug the gap and they duly introduced Harris as a tactical substitute to ride alongside Schlein. The tactic swiftly paid dividends with the experienced Rebels pair demonstrating something of a pincer movement to deny Lawson. A fine demonstration of team riding followed before Schlein sped away for the win (winning time 58.1) and with that the difference was now back at 3-points (34-31).
With that eminent pair set to feature again in two of the final four races the Eagles contingent were aware they had their work cut out knew only too well they would have to put further distance back in place in a bid to offset the twin threat.
Heat twelve would have surely been a race that they targeted to do just that but the match was turned on its head as Rowe popped out to seize the win (winning time 58.8) and with Kurtz coming out best in a race long ding-dong with Newman to grab a second successive 5-1 for the visitors suddenly it was advantage Somerset with the scores now standing at 35-36 and Rebels leading for the first time on the night.
Eastbourne were now staring down the barrel of a gun with Schlein and Harris now back on track and some inevitably thought they could be facing a third home league defeat.
Lawson stepped up to the plate in fine style however avenging his earlier defeat by the mighty pair and indeed in might have been better as the hosts gated ahead of their opponents. Kennett ran a wide on bend two allowing both Rebels by but Lawson held firm winning in a time of 58.2 and with just two heats remaining it was still the Rebels who held the advantage 39-38.
Cometh the moment, cometh the man however and it was Kerr who would spark the turnaround with a flying ride to win the penultimate race (winning time 58.6) ahead of Barker and with Bowtell again getting the better of Rowe the whip hand was now back with Eastbourne, the score now standing at 42-41 with one last heat remaining.
The hosts opted to go with their two winners from the previous two races Lawson and Kerr while the Rebels management, understandably and somewhat predictably nominated Schlein and Harris to serve their interests. With Eastbourne having earlier won the toss and deferring choice of gates to the last race they selected the inside traps.
With nerves in disarray and fingernails taking a hammering, tense moments followed with the tapes set to rise. As they did Arlington was in uproar as Lawson and Kerr stormed away side by side and looked to be heading for victory. It would certainly have proved a classic moment had the race completed in that vein but the third turn saw Harris, in a do or die attempt to get on terms, part company with his machine and fall. The race was halted and the Team GB rider disqualified. That ensured, barring catastrophe, the victory for the Sussex side and the rerun saw the host pair take the discretion is the better part of valour approach allowing the fast starting Schlein to go away from them (winning time 58.6) and concentrate on filling the minor places that secured for them the win by the narrowest of margins 45-44.
What had transpired however had proved to be a superb Speedway meeting and both teams should be applauded for the respective part that they played in making it so. Clearly the Eastbourne fans would have been the happier with another 3-points to the cause while Somerset at least had the consolation of a league point to augment their current third place in the Championship table, a point that their efforts so richly deserved.
Image: Mike Hinves & Tiffani Graveling Photography