Friday July 05, 2019
LEICESTER bowed out of the KO Cup after a 55-35 home win over Eastbourne in which they so nearly pulled off Mission Impossible.

Trailing by a massive 24-points after the first leg in which they fielded a severely depleted team, the Watling JCB Lions had slashed the gap to just two ahead of a sensational last-heat decider.

But there was to be no fairytale finale as Eagles captain Edward Kennett pulled off a brilliant ride to send his side through after a major scare.

Kennett re-passed Lions skipper Scott Nicholls, who had himself given an outstanding display, with the two captains involved throughout in some of the best racing ever seen at the Paul Chapman & Sons Arena.

Nicholls set the tone by slicing through inside Kennett to win Heat 1, and the early stages of the meeting saw the Lions record a series of 4-2s to chip away at their deficit.

With guest Chris Harris and Nicholls winning their first two rides, Lions gained advantages in five of the first seven races.

Belief flowed through the home camp after the first 5-1 of the night in Heat 8 as Ellis Perks led from the off and Connor Mountain worked overtime to get the better of Georgie Wood and Ben Morley.

Richard Lawson made it past Ryan Douglas to win a shared Heat 9 but the Lions came strong again in the next as Nicholls recorded his third win and Mountain picked up second after a terrific battle with Kyle Newman.

But the next two races appeared to have swung it back in Eastbourne’s favour as Kennett was adjudged to have passed Harris on the run to the line in Heat 11, whilst a battle for third place went just in favour of Wood at the expense of promising Lions guest Joe Lawlor.

And then in Heat 12 Mountain went into battle against Newman and Alfie Bowtell, briefly moving into second place before being relegated to the back and then falling.

That gave the Eagles an eight-point aggregate lead to defend, but Nicholls produced a move of true class to overtake Kennett off the last bend in Heat 13 with Harris third for a 4-2.

And as the pressure increased, Lewis Kerr got into trouble on turn three of Heat 14 and took an awkward fall, thankfully without injury – before Douglas and Mountain romped to a 5-1 in the re-run.

It meant another maximum in the decider would take the Lions through against all the odds, whilst a 4-2 would set up ‘Golden Heats’ – speedway’s equivalent of a penalty shoot-out.

In an epic finish to the tie, it looked good from the gate for Nicholls and Douglas, only for Kennett to surge to the front on the back straight – and then Nicholls cut back off bend four to re-take the lead.

But Kennett wasn’t finished, and with Nicholls looking to control the race and assist Douglas, the Eastbourne skipper came back through into lap three, although by that stage team-mate Lawson had also got the better of Douglas – all of which left the Lions just short of their target after a brave effort.

Manager Stewart Dickson said: “I know everyone involved in the club was urging us on, and for a wee while it did look possible.

“It was a fabulous effort and I’d rather talk about the positives, which was to score 55 points at home when missing Josh Bates. Overall, it was just too big a task in the end.

“Scott led from the front with a true captain’s role, and the way he goes about his business is so effective. He sees things that maybe we don’t see, and that’s why we brought him here, to be a leader.

“I don’t normally single riders out but I’d also give a special mention to Connor Mountain, who was fantastic, and I’m really proud of them all.

“We know where the shortfall was, it was at Eastbourne, and under normal circumstances that wouldn’t happen – but it did, so we have to dust ourselves down and we have another massive weekend to come.”

Lions now re-group ahead of the resumption of their Championship campaign, as they head to Berwick next Saturday before hosting the Bandits at the Paul Chapman & Sons Arena on Sunday July 14 (4pm).

LEICESTER 55: Scott Nicholls 14, Connor Mountain 11+3, Ryan Douglas 11, Ellis Perks 9+2, Chris Harris 9, Joe Lawlor 1, Josh Bates r/r
EASTBOURNE 35: Edward Kennett 12, Richard Lawson 8, Lewis Kerr 5, Kyle Newman 4+1, Georgie Wood 4, Alfie Bowtell 2, Ben Morley 0
Eastbourne win 92-88 on aggregate

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