Picture courtesy of Steve Dixon
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By Derek Barclay
Monday (17th September) was a limbering up evening for the greater challenges ahead (with the likelihood of both of the next two home matches being major competition semi-finals), but a Kent vs. Lakeside clash is always going to have a fiercely competitive edge and so it proved as the visiting Hammers retained the Tunnel Trophy by a score of 49 points to 41 at Central Park Stadium.
This Kent team aren't accustomed to losing on their home circuit and though with severely depleted ranks themselves and facing a very strong Select side put together by the club who just this week moved county base from Essex to Herts. Chris Hunt's charges put up a very plucky showing - coming back from early reverses to lead with just four heats to go only to succumb to a late burst by the Championship club.
There was excellent racing along the way and it was certainly youth to the fore with fellow 16-year-olds Anders Rowe for the hosts and debutant Daniel Gilkes for the Hammers taking the plaudits with some stunning performances. Rowe carried on from where he'd left off when in maximum mood last Monday - storming to a hugely impressive tapes to flag win in heat one; the Hammers' late replacement at number one, European U=19 Finalist Tom Brennan left in his wake.
For Gilkes, heat two was a first ever senior ride having held back from the normal route of going straight into a Travel Plus National League team at 15 and indeed ignoring the clamour from a host of interested suitors even after turning 16 in May (the same month as Rowe indeed) - whether he can resist the overtures bound to follow this stellar performance as Play Off season commences will be interesting to see. The Northampton-based teen was very slow from the off in heat two - and indeed the early leader was the Kings' William O'Keefe. The bespectacled youngster got out of shape and surrendered the lead but his team mate Alex Spooner looked to have it well under control - until Gilkes opened up the taps and, finding grip on the outside went fence scraping in pursuit of victory - completing a remarkable fourth to first dash on the home straight at the end of a breathless heart two.
Two quickfire 5-1s for the visitors in the next two heats were literally hammer blows for the Kings - not least because left in the wake of super-fast trapping Lakeside riders were the top two for the Kings, Nathan Stoneman & Jack Thomas - the latter fairly extraordinarily a victim of Gilkes' second win of the night.
A comeback was required and on cue it came. Guest Georgie Wood (brought in after Luke Clifton's broken thumb the day before brought a rethink on the team by boss Hunt) saw off Hammers' captain Ben Morley; was hastily followed by Thomas making amends and then a sizzling heat 8 saw the homesters regain the lead. For once Gilkes was out of contention after a bruising first bend bunch and it was left to his racing partner Danno Verge to take the battle to the Kings' pair. In truth, lightning fast Rowe was way clear but the scrap between the former Kent man Verge and Spooner was a classic - the lead to-ing and fro-ing until Spooner pulled away to make it a 5-1 and see the Kings back into the ascendancy.
Heat 10 might have been expecting that lead to open up some more but up to then unbeaten Wood was surprisingly at the back and seemingly out of sorts; so even though Rowe won again, the lead remained only two points. Gilkes' third win of the night (this time over Stoneman) in heat 12 saw Jason Edwards (the youngest of the 16-year olds, having only turned that age last week) take the third place point and with three heats to go the scores were locked together at 36 all.
Two decesive 5-1s to the visitors clinched the match though. Wood looked way off the pace and Thomas even more so, in a very disappointing heat 13 maximum reverse. This left heat 14 being (by no means for the first time this term) of crucial importance. It looked as if a major obstacle could have been removed when Gilkes seemed over eager at the start - but instead of exclusion for touching the tapes he was given the benefit of the doubt and received merely a warning. Not needing a second opportunity, he partnered Richard Andrews to a 5-1 victory, with Rowe after a shocking start utterly out of contention to gift the impressive looking piece of silverware to the Hammers.
They'll be questions out of this for the Kings' faithful to contemplate prior to next Monday's crunch and indeed grudge scrap against Eastbourne in the Knock-out cup semi. Can Wood riding for his own side, the Eagles possibly deliver so low a points return? Will Brennan and Edwards use the experience of this recent outing to punish the Kings? Who will be the all-important Guest at number one for the hosts? And will the reluctant Gilkes somehow play some kind of a part?
The answers will come (at least in part one) when hostilities resume between Kent and Eastbourne in that first leg semi next Monday (23rd September) - start time at Central Park of 6.30pm.
Kent SLYDE Kings 41
Georgie Wood [G] 2* 3 0 1 2 8+1
Anders Rowe 3 1 3 3 0 10
Nathan Stoneman 1 3 2 2 8
Rider Replacement - Taylor Hampshire
Jack Thomas 1 3 3 0 1* 8+1
William O'Keefe 0 0 0 1 1
Alex Spooner 2 R 2* 1* 0 0 1 6+2
Lakeside Hammers Select 49
Tom Brennan 0 2 2 3 0 7
Danno Verge 1 1* 1 1* 4+2
Jason Edwards 3 2 2 1 8
Richard Andrews 2* F 1* 3 6+2
Ben Morley 2* 2 3 2* 3 12+2
Jamie Couzins 1 0 0 1
Daniel Gilkes 3 3 0 3 2* 11+1
1. Rowe, Wood, Verge, Brennan 59.0 (5-1)
2. Gilkes, Spooner, Couzins, O'Keefe 60.9 (7-5)
3. Edwards, Andrews, Stoneman, O'Keefe 60.3 (8-10)
4. Gilkes, Morley, Thomas, Spooner (ret) 59.6 (9-15)
5. Stoneman, Brennan, Verge, O'Keefe 60.4 (12-18)
6. Wood, Morley, Rowe, Couzins 59.0 (16-20)
7.Thomas, Edwards, O'Keefe, Andrews (fell) 59.7 (20-22)
8. Rowe, Spooner, Verge, Gilkes 59.8 (25-23)
9. Morley, Stoneman, Spooner, Couzins 59.6 (28-26)
10. Rowe, Edwards, Andrews, Wood 59.6 (31-29)
11. Thomas, Brennan, Verge, Spooner 60.1 (34-32)
12. Gilkes, Stoneman, Edwards, Spooner 60.0 (36-36)
13. Brennan, Morley, Wood, Thomas 59.6 (37-41)
14. (re-run) Andrews, Gilkes, Spooner, Rowe 59.9 (38-46)
15. Morley, Wood, Thomas, Brennan, 60.0 (41-49)