REPORT Thursday 28th May 2009, 10:00pm
As we led 13-11 after heat 4, it would have taken a supreme pessimist to think that we might struggle to qualify for the KO Cup quarter finals. A few heats later, that?s exactly what we were thinking.
In the end the 28 point lead was just enough, but it took an exceptional second place by Matthew Wethers in heat 13 to take us to the brink of qualifying.
We started with a 5-1, exactly as we had in the Premier Trophy visit. Ryan Fisher?s time was the fastest of the night with Aaron Summers holding off Parsons as Ashworth retired at the back.
Michal Rajkowski led heat 2 but was passed by Auty. It looked momentarily as though Sean Stoddart might pass Mills but he dropped back.
Parsons led heat 3 with Tully at the back, but Tully moved inside Cooper as they hit the third turn. He led into the turn, on the line, but Cooper dismally slid off which not unpredictably (though surely wrongly) earned Tully an exclusion. We didn?t lose out though because Aaron Summers led all the way in the rerun.
Matthew Wethers rode an excellent heat 4 to round Hall out of turn two and head him home. So we were 13-11 up and only needed another 19 points from 11 heats. No problem, surely?
Ah but it was. Heat 5 looked promising, our opening pair against Parsons and Cooper, but we trailed dismally to lose a 1-5. Heat 6 followed with an incredible series of events.
First Ashworth jumped the start and was pulled back. Next, he did it again, this time charging through the tapes and riding round a lap with the tape trailing from his machine. It was the most obvious tapes exclusion you could ever see ? but ?all four back? was announced. There was considerable laughter from the home fans.
It seems the ref thought the tapes had malfunctioned, though it?s hard to see how with Ashworth going through them ? they didn?t get a chance to malfunction. The decision was ridiculous but at the third attempt the home men just beat Matthew to the bend for another 5-1.
Hall won heat 7 but Fisher thankfully held off the pressing Auty to get us 2 points.
Auty and Mills then took 5 from heat 8, well ahead of Summers, and things were not looking great for us. We were 12 down, 17 up on aggregate but had spilled 14 points off the aggregate lead in 4 races.
We needed every point we could get. Matthew took a second in heat 9 but Cooper passed Rajkowski at the back, and for once the Raj was ineffective.
Cooper was given the rider replacement in heat 10 for Sheffield, when it could have been Auty, and we took advantage as Tully and Wethers kept him at the back.
Fisher split Hall and Auty in heat 11, though once again Auty put pressure on Fish who wasn?t looking quick in spite of his fast heat 1 win.
Auty replaced Cooper in heat 12, and Mills picked up a 2-minute punishment which sent him back 15 metres. Tully led but was passed by Auty, and even worse, Rajkowski was caught with embarrassing ease by Mills as we conceded another 4-2.
We weren?t far away now though, and Sheffield needed three 5-1s to beat us. That was not something which was inconceivable!
Heat 13 was a great race. Hall led all the way with Ashworth second, and Wethers persisting with an outside run constantly coming alongside Ashworth. He seemed to be through a couple of times, and finally on the last lap he did squeeze through a tiny gap to take a memorable second place.
We were now guaranteed a draw but Andrew made sure we qualified with a second between Auty and Parsons in heat 14.
Parsons was given a heat 15 ride, which he would not have been if the race result had mattered, and we managed to share the heat behind Hall to make the score look a little better than the performance had actually been.
It was remarkable that even though they pushed us so hard, there was very little buildup from Sheffield?s presentation team who should have been whipping up the home fans into a frenzy and trying to put pressure on us.