Picture courtesy of Steve Dixon
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By Derek Barclay
Kent TouchTec Kings reigned in the rain as they saw off Belle Vue Colts in difficult conditions at Central Park last night (Monday 7th October) to reach their first-ever Play Off Grand Final.
It's rare for a Speedway meeting to take place in persistent rain throughout and yet thanks to incredible track preparation and to the credit of all 14 riders sticking to the task in hand with skill & determination, this was a fine advert for the resilience and endeavour of the National League [NL].
Four down from the first leg had made the Kings narrow ante-post favourites to progress through the previously jinxed semi-final stage at last and with their riders to a man making light of the conditions, the Kings ended winning relatively comfortably: 53-36 on the night, 96-83 on aggregate.
That initial four points deficit was wiped out immediately with the resurgent Jordan Jenkins and newly re-installed number one, Anders Rowe storming to a heat one 5-1. Of all the Kings, Rowe was arguably to make the most telling of contributions on this wettest of Central Park evenings - with a display of controlled aggression and balance, seeing him barge his way to a memorable race victory over the visitors' most assured performer Leon Flint in heat six and then doing likewise to take Jordan Palin from behind to clinch aggregate victory in heat 13.
The match had for a spell at the mid-way point looked in danger of being unable to reach such a conclusion - when the rain worsened considerably between heats seven & eight and the Colts' management expressed some concerns about the appropriateness of carrying on: visibility in the. by this stage, driving rain being their stated concern. Cue that smoothest of operators Dan Gilkes to show how conditions were still fine to race with a masterclass in heat nine partnered by his fully back-to-form skipper Rob Ledwith for a 5-1 which took the Kings into a dominant position.
The Colts seemed on the point of conceding there with Flint showing some petulance as he trailed in third - but to the eternal credit of the Manchester side they came again, delivering four heat winners in the final six heats. Indeed, when on for a 5-1 in heat 13 a miracle comeback seemed fleetingly possible for the Colts before Rowe again muscled in to clinch that most coveted of Play Off Final places for Chris Hunt's charges.
Rob Ledwith came within an ace of getting a career first maximum - unbeaten by an opponent in his four programmed rides before a tumble when trailing in the nominated riders heat dashed those hopes.
The conditions suited the veteran skipper as he explained afterwards to the SFM Sports Team:"I had a good one tonight. I was making good starts and I find that my starting is always helped when a track surface is damp. As a starting area dries up my starts sometimes get a bit fluffy but let's be honest, one heck of a lot of rain fell tonight and nothing was going to dry up out there!" Watched by his wife with their new baby daughter Harmony, Rob is looking forward to the Final: "My form was good tonight and I hope I can carry this onto the matches against Leicester".
An understandably cock-a-hoop team boss Chris Hunt told SFM: "It was a fantastic performance by all seven riders out there tonight. We're through to our first Play Off Final and we're are going all out to win! We've built our team from the start for this - and we've done the business in both legs". He was full of praise too for the semi-final opponents: "Let's be clear about this, Belle Vue are a really good team - and fair play to then for carrying on and putting up a real fight because the conditions out there were far from ideal" And with the established solidity through the Kings' line up the Play Off Final opponents, Leicester Lion Cubs will underestimate the chances of Kent in the two-legged Play Off Final at their peril.
The next home leg is on Monday 14th October when the curtain will be brought down on the 2019 Speedway season at Central Park Stadium- culminating in a Grand Fireworks Display within the stadium after the meeting.
The away leg of the Play Off Final at Leicester is yet to be announced but that seems all but certain to be a second leg staged after Kent's 14th. October meeting when the requirement will be to try and build as sizeable as possible lead over the East Midlanders.
NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAY OFF SEMI FINAL SECOND LEG
Kent win on aggregate 96-83
Kent TouchTec Kings 53 (96)
Anders Rowe 2' 3 2 2 9+1
Jordan Jenkins 3 1 3 0 7
Dan Gilkes 1 2' 3 3 2 11+1
Rob Ledwith 3 3 2' 3 1' 12+2
Drew Kemp 2, 3, 2, 1' 8+1
Jake Mulford 3 0 1' FX 4+1
Alex Spooner 0 1' 1 0 2+1
Belle Vue Colts 36 (83)
Jordan Palin 1 1 3 F 3 8
Connor Bailey FX M 2 0 2
Kyle Bickley 2 1' 3 2 8+1
Danny Phillips FX 2 1 Inj.NS 3
Leon Flint 3 2 1 3 FX 9
Ben Rathbone 2 0 0 0 1' 2 5+1
Ben Woodhull 1' 0 0 X 1+1
1 (rerun) Jenkins, Rowe, Palin, Bailey (fell exc.) 62.5 (5-1) (48-48)
2 Mulford, Rathbone, Woodhull, Spooner 62.8 (8-4) (51-51)
3 (rerun) Ledwith, Bickley, Gilkes, Phillips (fell exc.) 62.8 (12-6) (55-53)
4 Flint, Kemp, Spooner, Woodhull 63.4 (15-9) (58-56)
5 (rerun) Ledwith, Gilkes, Palin, Rathbone 62.4 (20-10) (63-57)
6 Rowe, Flint, Jenkins, Rathbone 61.3 (24-12) (67-59)
7 (rerun) Kemp, Phillips, Bickley, Mulford 61.7 (27-15) (70-62)
8 Jenkins, Bailey, Spooner, Woodhull 65.9 (31-17) (74-64)
9 Gilkes, Ledwith, Flint, Rathbone 64.4 (36-18) (79-65)
10 Bickley, Rowe, Phillips, Jenkins 65.6 (38-22) (81-69)
11 Palin, Kemp, Mulford, Bailey 65.4 (41-25) (84-72)
12 Gilkes, Bickley, Rathbone, Spooner 66.4 (44-28) (87-75)
13 Flint, Rowe, Kemp, Palin (fell) 65.0 (47-31) (90-78)
14 (rerun) Ledwith, Rathbone, Woodhull (exc. NUP), Mulford (fell exc.), Phillips (injured) 68.4 (50-33) (93-80)
15 (rerun) Palin, Gilkes, Ledwith (fell rem.), Flint (fell exc.) (53-36) (96-83)