Ugly clashes take shine off thrilling cup battle

LOOSENING UP: Reserve Dan Halsey before his sterling display against the Stoke Potters

LOOSENING UP: Reserve Dan Halsey before his sterling display against the Stoke Potters

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Mildenhall Fen Tigers 51 Stoke Potters 43

NATIONAL LEAGUE

KNOCKOUT CUP

FINAL FIRST LEG

Mildenhall Fen Tigers 51

Stoke Potters 43

by Derek Bish at Mildenhall Stadium

A LATE fightback from the Stoke Potters kept this National League Knockout Cup final in the balance, but a thrilling meeting was overshadowed by ugly clashes between Tigers fans and visiting riders James Sarjent and Simon Lambert.

The scuffle broke out after Lambert caused a crash in heat 13 that saw home skipper Jack Hargreaves take a nasty tumble before being struck by the helpless Tim Webster, who was minding his own business on the outside of turn one.

An argument broke out between Sarjent and fans the other side of the pits’ fence that quickly evolved into a scuffle once Lambert – who had his own argument with Mildenhall fans in the home straight stand as he walked off the track – returned to the pits.

Sarjent had to be restrained, but that was not the end of the matter as the fence was pushed open from the Potters’ side and a melee broke out, with security and the Tigers’ promotion team quickly stepping in an attempt to sort out the sorry mess.

Several families were sitting innocently nearby and a three-year-old boy became lost, before appeals for calm were finally heeded and the meeting was able to close with the Tigers ahead by eight points.

There was reason for the Tigers’ fans to worry when returning number one Cameron Heeps struggled in the opening heat as the Potters surged to a 5-1 maximum.

However, the teenage Aussie was back on form in heat six, blazing a trail at the front with the equal second fastest time of the night to give Mildenhall the advantage for the first time.

That preceded a run of four heats that saw the Tigers take 20 points and Stoke just three as the home side surged into an 18-point lead.

After Sarjent and visiting captain Atkin tumbled in the initial running of race seven, Dan Halsey and Hargreaves cruised home unopposed for a 5-0 win, before the Baseby brothers – Aaron and Mark – Lewis Blackbird and Joe Jacobs, and Heeps and Mark Baseby collected a trio of 5-1 successes to put Mildenhall 38-20 ahead.

However, with double-scoring tactical rides in play for the visitors, Halsey limited the damage in heat 11 to a 7-2 loss thanks to a stunning pass on Jamie Pickard, before fellow reserve Aaron Baseby passed Gareth Isherwood and challenged Sarjent right to the line one race later for another 7-2 reverse.

Lambert was lucky to be allowed to race in heat 13’s re-run after sending Hargreaves to the shale on the opening bend, but the subsequent clashes meant the meeting did not resume for several minutes.

When it did, day had turned to night and Lambert took victory from Heeps as Stoke reduced the gap to just six points.

But the visitors’ charge was halted as Blackbird and Halsey took the penultimate heat with a one-two.

They could not repeat the trick in the final race as Lambert completed a perfect haul of 18 points from a possible 18, but more stupendous riding from Halsey saw him pip Sarjent on the line to take second and give the Tigers an eight-point lead to defend when they travel to Loomer Road for the second leg on October 22.