Picture courtesy of Steve Dixon
By Derek Barclay
It was a stirring late meeting comeback by the Kent SLYDE Kings on Friday (30th September) ensuring that the Travel Plus National League [TPNL] Play Off semi-final remains evenly poised at the halfway point; but there's no doubt some level of ascendency has passed to Eastbourne - surprise winners on the night by four points.
The visitors started in emphatic style pushing on to an eight point lead after just three heats ensuring that all evening, in front of a packed Central Park crowd, it was a case of the hosts having to play catch-up.
No-one started faster than the Eagles' number one (missing when the Sussex seasiders went down in the corresponding TPNL match in August) - storming from the tapes to hold his counterpart in the SLYDE Kings' ranks, Luke Bowen at bay to such an extent that the World Under 21 finalist took Bowen's track record too: a best ever time for four laps of the Central Park Speedway circuit of 56.1 seconds. Behind the battling number ones, Kent's Jack Thomas was suffering ignition system problems causing him to fall away and surrender third to the visitors' rookie rider Tom Brennan.
Captialising on his success in the opener, Brennan sped quickly out of the traps in heat two at the second time of asking - Danno Verge having been warned for moving at the start at the first attempt this time missing the start. With Verge trailing and his reserve partner Luke Clifton falling, it was a worst possible outcome for a race the SLYDE Kings' team boss Chris Hunt would have picked as one his reserves needed to nail - a 1-5 to the Eagles who were now well and truly on the steel-soled front foot. If Adam Ellis had started like the undoubted star of the division, then his namesake Ellis Perks was to emerge as the rider of the night for the visitors - winning heat three from Danny Ayres and destined to reel off five heat wins from his first five rides; the Eagles being able to call upon the Australian-raised rider to take an extra ride under the Rider Replacement facility.
Adam Ellis meanwhile was destined not to have it all his own way. Leading Ayres in heat five, the Kent favourite was determined to get back on terms. Put under pressure on the final bend of lap one, Ellis locked up completely and cut right into Ayres' path causing the SLYDE Kings' man to almost crash and lose ground going to the back. It seemed that the referee must surely stop proceedings and exclude Ellis buit not so - fate intervened the next time the riders got to that same set of bends on the next lap with Charley Powell falling and the now back-marker Ayres needing to lay his machine down quickly to prevent catastrophic contact with the lad from Orpington.Powell was excluded from the rerun but Ayres' machine (and pocket) paid a heavy price with significant wheel and frame damage.
James Shanes had stopped the early meeting rot with a win in heat four and in heat seven he faced the unbeaten Perks. Lady Luck was certainly not smiling on the hosts though, because Kent's Boy Wizard of Balance found even his legendary poise shattered when his footrest snapped off mid-race sending him to the back. And with Perks recording back-to-back heat wins suddenly at the halfway stage of his first leg the homesters found themselves a potentially fatal 12 points adrift.
Another Perks win in heat 10 and the situation was not improved: 12 behind and the remaining five heats with the Eagles two unbeaten men, Ellis and Perks likely to be appearing in four of them. The hosts were a man down too - Clifton having fallen awkwardly in heat eight, aggravating a previous knee injury. A fall for the other Luke, the SLYDE Kings' skipper Bowen in heat 10 seemed to emphasise how the Speedway Gods were not looking favourably at all on Kent's Play-Off chances.
That the SLYDE Kings recovered from the dozen point deficit going into heat 11 to finish just four points behind on the night at the end was a remarkable effort. It began with Shanes gloriously coming from behind to lower Ellis' colours in heat 11. Then Bowen exacted his first dose of revenge over Ellis in heat 13 - all of a sudden the Eagles' number one who tops the TPNL averages was looking very far from unbeatable.
His namesake Perks was continuing to shine though, holding off Ayres in heat 12 to complete a nap hand of race wins. Heat 14 saw a heroic effort by Verge to get his team into a better position as the first leg reached its conclusion - leading Georgie Wood until the final bends before having to surrender the three points.
So eight down going into heat 15 it was clear that Hunt's picked pair of Bowen & Ayres needed nothing less than a 5-1 to keep their side in the tie. Up against Ellis and the unbeaten Perks it seemed a hugely tall-order; but Bowen pulled off a lightning fast start and his team mate found a barely discernible gap between the two Eagles to sweep into second coming out of the second bend. Holding on to take the maximum, suddenly there was some hope in the air for the massed ranks of Kent fans who now journey to Arlington next Friday (7/10) with a more optimistic view of the likely outcome. Certainly if Ellis continues his indifference to the battle shown when he unaccountably decided to pop wheelies at the back of the field in heat 15, it will increase the belief that this isn't over yet by a long chalk.
Luke Bowen 2 3 0 3 3 11
Jack Thomas 0 1 2 1 4
Danny Ayres 2 2 3 2 2* 11+1
David Mason R 1* 2* 1* 4+3
James Shames 3 0 3 1 7
Danno Verge 1 1 1 1* 2 6+1
Luke Clifton 0 Lpd X Injured 0
Adam Ellis 3 3 2 2 0 10
Rider replacement - Gary Cottham
Ellis Perks 3 3 3 3 3 1 16
Georgie Wood 1 2* 2* 3 8+2
Jake Knight 2 2 F R 4
Tom Brennan 1 3 0 1 0 5
Charley Powell 2* 1* X 1 X R 4+2
Niall Strudwick Did not ride DNR
1. Ellis, Bowen, Brennan, Thomas, 56.1 [NEW TRACK RECORD] (2-4)
2. (re-run) Brennan, Powell, Verge, Clifton (f.rem), (3-9), 60.4
3. Perks, Ayres, Wood, Mason (f.rem) (ret), (5-13) 58.0
4. Shanes, Knight, Powell, Clifton (lpd), 60.2 (8-16)
5. (re-run) Ellis, Ayres, Mason, Powell (f.exc), 58.1 (11-19)
6. Bowen, Knight, Thomas, Brennan, 58.4 (15-21)
7. Perks, Wood, Verge, Shanes, 58.8 (16-26)
8. (re-run) Perks, Thomas, Powell, Clifton (f.exc), 58.9 (18-30)
9. (re-run) Ayres, Mason, Brennan, Knight (f), 58.3 (23-31)
10. Perks, Wood, Thomas, Bowen (f.rem) 59.7 (24-36)
11. (re-run) Shanes, Ellis, Verge, Powell (f.exc) 58.9 (28-38)
12. Perks, Ayres, Verge, Brennan, 59.7 (31-41)
13. Bowen, Ellis, Shanes, Knight (ret), 58.6 (35-43)
14. Wood, Verge, Mason, Powell (ret), 60.8 (38-46)
15. Bowen, Ayres, Perks, Ellis, 59.3 (43-47)