Eastbourne Speedway suffered an agonising end to their first home league match of the season.
They went down to a 45-44 to Leicester after home star Richard Lawson crashed only 20 metres from the chequered flag in the deciding heat 14.
If Lawson had stayed onboard, the Fineprint Eagles would have taken the winner’s spoils.
The match was nip and tuck throughout with the Sussex club unable to forge a decisive advantage.
The east Midlands outfit always kept them in range through the efforts of their heatleaders, Scott Nicholls, Richie Worrall and Josh Pickering.D
In the final race, Lawson led the way and the Eagles were set for a 3-3 heat result but disaster struck.
Lawson said: “I drifted too wide the previous lap and clipped the fence with my footrest and bent it completely back.
“I didn’t have a footrest for the last lap and I managed to get around bends one and two but coming into three and four I knew it was going to be tough and I couldn’t get round it.
“Yards from the finish, I have thrown it away. I am gutted.”
Lawson said Leicester looked to him like one of the best teams that will come to Arlington this year.
“It was always going to be tough but silly mistakes like that; you cannot afford them at this level. It is still early in the season and one loss is not the end of the world.
“We have to learn from it and come back stronger.”
Eastbourne: Lewi Kerr 9, Tom Brennan 8, Georgie Wood 7+1, Edward Kennett 7, Richard Lawson 6, Ben Morley 5+3, Alfie Bowtell 2+1.
Leicester: Scott Nicholls 14, Richie Worrall 12+2, Josh Pickering 11, Ellis Perks 7+1, Connor Mountain 1, Jack Thomas 0.
Here is Kevin Ling’s verdict on the Sunday’s dramatic 15 heats at Arlington Stadium which saw Eagles’ hearts broken.
The celebrations of the Eastbourne ‘Fineprint’ Eagles supporters turned to heartbreak within yards of the finish line at Arlington stadium on Sunday afternoon as a fall for Richard Lawson saw them denied a momentous victory.
For 14 races the Sussex side had jousted with the ‘in-form’ Leicester Lions and despite the most extreme pressure it appeared for three and a half laps at least that they had done just enough to withstand that challenge.
With Eagles holding a 43-40 advantage, Lawson, despite not having enjoyed his best performance for his new club, led the pack and the win looked to be in the bag.
On the final turn of the third lap, drama ensued as the home rider clipped the air fence but managed to stay aboard. What wasn’t immediately apparent to the substantial attendance – but wholly evident to the rider himself – was that his footrest had been bent out of shape and consequently he was struggling to maintain full control of his machine.
With Scott Nicholls, just one star of the show for the Lions, bearing down as the pair entered that final quarter lap; Lawson was just unable to turn his bike sufficiently, clipping the fence once again but this time coming down.
With Lawson coming to grief, that moment saw Nicholls sweep through to take the win and with the chasing Richie Worrall following close at heel ahead of Eastbourne skipper Edward Kennett this handed the visitors the 5-1 that they needed to snatch the last gasp victory.
Though understandably disappointed, indeed Eastbourne rarely have home defeats to contend with and reflect upon, what had ensued proved to be an absorbing and wholly entertaining meeting with a number of effective plot twists.
With Leicester already being spoken of as likely title contenders, a run of six wins in succession, the most recent proving a 53-37 taming of the Eagles around their own circuit the previous evening, augmenting that theory, the Sussex outfit always knew they would have their work cut out.
Though the Lions took an early lead, courtesy of a second heat 3-2 the hosts seized the offensive back thanks to a fourth race 4-2 and they clung to the advantage right until that decisive final moment.
For the visitors Nicholls showed every ounce of his undoubted quality, only losing out once to Lawson in heat eleven. In addition Worrall provided solid support with a paid 14-point return and they were also well served by guest Josh Pickering (of Edinburgh) who also contributed three telling heat wins.
For the Eagles, although they might have lacked the usual punch at heat leader level, the lower order stepped up to the plate, Georgie Wood and Tom Brennan each providing moments to cheer for the home fan, the latter’s defeat of fourth race Worrall in his fastest Arlington time yet proving particularly pleasing.
Indeed the meeting proved to be ‘all action’ from the word go. It was the Eastbourne duo of Kennett and Ben Morley who led into the first turn of heat one but Nicholls blazed through on Morley’s inside down the back straight to set his sights on the home skipper.
The former Eagle then produced a stunning passing to cut through on the inside heading into lap three to secure an opening win for the Lions (winning time 57.6).
Wood suffered a first bend fall in race two leaving Brennan to give chase to Ellis Perks with Jack Thomas following on in third. One lap later Thomas would also come to grief, the final reckoning seeing Perks take the chequered flag from Brennan and with that an overall 6-5 lead to the visitors (winning time 58.7).
Lewis Kerr helping settle the early nerves for the home side with a controlled win over the impressive Pickering in heat three but with Alfie Bowtell getting all out of shape in the run up to the first turn the race points remained shared and so the Lions maintained that slender lead, one that now stood at 9-8 (winning time 57.7).
A tight first turn that saw Perks part company with his machine, meant that it was all four back to the start line. Perks would make the gate once more and with Lawson rounding him on the back straight, Brennan then cut inside heading into the third bend and once more Perks found himself in the fence.
Perks remained on track and the race was again halted but the referee saw no impropriety and the visiting reserve was duly disqualified.
The second rerun saw the Eagles gate in the 5-1 position but Worrall was soon to make his presence felt. A titanic battle with Lawson duly unfolded and Brennan would secure a wholly impressive victory, the visiting rider got the better of the battle going on behind him to limit the damage to a 4-2 and with that it was the Eagles who took the lead, the scores now standing at 12-11 in their favour (winning time 57.8).
Nicholls seized a second commanding win in heat five ahead of Kerr but with Connor Mountain having already been disqualified having fallen heading into the first turn the points remained shared and Eastbourne would hold onto that narrow lead (winning time 57.4).
Soon after this the announcement came that Thomas had unfortunately been withdrawn from the meeting due to a shoulder injury sustained in his heat two spill.
Worrall made it four wins out of six for Leicester following the next race after he executed a fine pass of Kennett heading into the third bend of heat six. Though the home rider tracked him closely throughout he just couldn’t get on terms however with Morley seeing off the challenge of Perks once more it was a 3-3 and the scores moved to 18-17 in eagles favour (winning time 58.0).
Race seven and Pickering would join the party, riding around the wide line to deny both Lawson and Wood. With Mountain out of shape and struggling to stay on terms, a third successive 3-3 saw that 1-point disparity remain in place, the score now standing at 21-20 as the teams approached the halfway stage (winning time 57.7).
Eastbourne then stepped it up a notch, just as they needed to with the visiting heat leaders in such good form. Brennan and Morley combined for a welcome 5-1 at the expense of Mountain, Perks falling out of contention early on as he apparently neglected to turn his fuel on (winning time 58.3).
With Thomas a non-starter in the ninth, Worrall would face the Eagles duo alone and with Kerr gating to procure for him a second win, the 4-2 eased the hosts 7-points clear of their opponents, the scores settling at 30-23 with six heats remaining (winning time 57.4).
Heat ten would see the visitors hit back with a vengeance however. Worrall was preferred to take the Rider Replacement outing alongside Pickering. Though many might have anticipated the introduction of Nicholls as a tactical substitute, the Lions duo didn’t leave their travelling supporters wanting as they hit the front out of the start. Though Kennett tried with every fibre of his being to make up the early ground he would take a tumble on the fourth turn leaving Pickering and Worrall to take maximum points from the race with Morley a distant third (winning time 58.5).
Three-points now the difference (31-28), the Eagles eased clear of their opponents once more as Lawson, much to the delight of the home fans, gated to lower the colours of Nicholls in the eleventh. With Wood also finding a way past Mountain the resultant 4-2 set the margin at 5-points (35-30) with just four races left on the card (winning time 57.8).
Both sides would ring the changes in the next as Eastbourne drafted in Wood to replace the out of sorts Bowtell while Perks became the necessary change in place of Thomas.
Though Wood got the drop on the other three this time it would be Pickering who produced a moment to savour as he squeezed between opponent and fence on the run down the back straight. With Pickering continuing for the win ahead of the hard chasing Wood and Perks getting the better of Brennan, the 4-2 advantage went the way of the Lions and the difference returned to 3-points, 37-34 (winning time 57.6).
Indeed the visitors would draw ever closer to their hosts as Nicholls and Worrall combined to claim a further 4-2 in heat thirteen (winning time 58.1). Once more Nicholls would claim the verdict from Kennett and with Worrall pegging Lawson in an uncharacteristic last place the scores now stood at 39-38 and with two intriguing heats left to run, simply anything could yet happen.
With Pickering coming into heat 14 and with him riding so well, many suspected he could be the man to beat. His input was only destined to last only as far as the second turn however as he went a little too wide and clattered into the air fence.
This left Wood to ease clear of the field to round off an impressive afternoon for him with a win. If Kerr could manage to find a way past Perks for second place this would have ensured an Eastbourne victory however the Leicester reserve held firm to the delight of the travelling fans as the 4-2 against still offered their side a glimmer of hope as the teams entered the final heat (winning time 59.1).
With Kennett and Lawson lining up in opposition to Nicholls and Worrall that glimmer looked to have been all but snuffed out as Lawson hit the front and appeared set to have the measure of the Lions pair. However fate proved to be a fickle mistress on this occasion as Lawson will surely testify following his brush with the air fence on the third lap.
Nicholls and Worrall gratefully accepted verdict (winning time 59.2) as did their jubilant supporters. As for Eastbourne their fans were stunned into virtual silence as they were left to reflect on a first home defeat in some while.
Eagles: Lewis Kerr 9(4), Tom Brennan 8(4), Georgie Wood 7+1(5), Edward Kennett 7(5), Richard Lawson 6(5), Ben Morley 5+3(4), Alfie Bowtell 2+1(3). – 44
Lions: Scott Nicholls 14(5), Richie Worrall 12+2(6), Josh Pickering (Guest for Josh Bates) 11(5), Ellis Perks 7+1(7), Connor Mountain 1(5), Jack Thomas 0(1), Rider Replacement for Ryan Douglas. – 45
Image credits: Mike Hinves