DAN Halsey admitted he could barely watch as the Mildenhall Fen Tigers missed out on the National League title at West Row on Sunday.
Having overcome a 29-point deficit from the first leg, the Tigers were so close to clinching their first double since 2004, with reserve Halsey continuing his fine end-of-season form by top-scoring with 13+3 points.
But their 59-31 victory in the second leg was not quite enough as the Scunthorpe Saints secured a championship-winning one-two finish ahead of teenager Cameron Heeps in the final heat to take the glory.
“I’m absolutely devastated,” said Halsey. “We didn’t expect to come and turn them over to be honest, but once we got a few 5-1s and were so close to winning it, it’s killed us really.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘one more 5-1, one more 5-1’, and the next thing we knew we were five points up and we realised we could do it.
“He’s a 15-year-old lad at the end of the day and we all felt for him – the whole team were in the middle of the track and couldn’t watch because we felt sorry for him. But he’s a good lad and he can handle himself pretty well.”
Heeps added: “coming into this meeting I thought there was no way we were going to get close, yet it came down to a last-heat decider.
“I got a bit unlucky, but that’s speedway for you – I did my best. I was pretty gutted to get third, but I did all I could – it ended up being half a wheel.”
Co-promoter Michael Lee was furious at his side after an inept display in the first leg on Friday, but was mightily proud with how they responded in the second leg on Sunday.
“I can’t knock anyone – the whole team have done brilliantly,” said the 1980 world champion. “We couldn’t have asked for more from them, and neither can the supporters.
“I’ve spoken to people who have been coming to speedway since 1950 and they were absolutely flabbergasted by the meeting, which is good for us – now we have something to build on for next year.”
Scunthorpe team manager Stuart Parnaby admitted he and his side were worried as the Tigers pulled back the points heat-after-heat.
He said: “Deep down on Friday we didn’t think they would pull it back, but Mildenhall did a terrific job.”
Derek Wilson, the Fen Tigers’ supporters’ club representative, added: “We have had a fantastic season and far exceeded anybody’s expectations.
“From having nothing, getting the lads together and going on to win the cup final and miss out on the league by a point is absolutely phenomenal.”