Isle of Wight Islanders 50
Mildenhall Fen Tigers 40
(90-90 draw on aggregate)
The Mildenhall Fen Tigers held on to the National League Knockout Cup for a few days longer thanks to a captain’s ride from Danny Halsey.
Facing the Isle of Wight Islanders’ best two riders — including 18-point maximum man Steve Worrall — in the final heat, Halsey almost held on for a memorable victory to take the Tigers into the final against arch rivals Dudley Heathens, but instead had to settle for a second place that takes the tie into a replay.
The Tigers — cup winners of the past two years — host Isle of Wight on Sunday (3.30pm) before returning to Smallbrook Stadium on Tuesday (7pm).
“We nearly had it, but when you’ve got a rider the quality of Steve Worrall behind you riding the way he had all night it’s never in the bag until the chequered flag comes out,” said co-promoter, and team manager for the night, Chris Louis.
“Dan said he possibly could have held on to it, but he just got too tired from riding wider and faster than he had all night to try and secure the win — he did a really good job.
“It’s gutting to come within half a lap of going through without having to do it all again, but we’ll have to do that now.”
The early signs were good for Mildenhall as they held Isle of Wight level on the night after seven heats at 21-21, with the visitors’ only maximum of the night — by guest Ben Morley and Aaron Baseby in heat three — even briefly stretching their aggregate advantage to 12 points.
However, the Tigers’ fortunes took a downward turn in heat eight when Stefan Nielsen crashed out of second place to hand the Isle of Wight their only one-two of the meeting, controversially awarded by the referee even though leader Brendan Johnson also hit the deck.
A brace of 4-2s for Isle of Wight — led home by Tom Perry and the unbeatable Worrall — brought Hall’s aggregate lead down to two, but the Suffolk side reeled off four consecutive draws to take the tie to a final-heat decider.
Among those, the Islanders’ Perry went from last to first to snatch victory and a brilliant ride by Baseby kept the Tigers’ hopes alive in the penultimate race.
Danny Phillips suffered a technical glitch on the line that meant he did not get away, but Isle of Wight’s Lee Smart picked up a puncture on lap three that allowed Baseby and Chris Widman through, with the Mildenhall man leaving it until the final moment to pip Widman on the line and keep his side’s aggregate advantage intact.
After Nielsen was excluded from the final heat, Halsey produced his storming ride in the rerun, holding off Worrall for three-and-a-half laps before the Islanders’ guest got by to claim his 18-point maximum.