LIONS 50 REDCAR 40 (Agg 91-89)

Saturday October 12, 2019
LEICESTER are through to the Championship Grand Final – after arguably the most thrilling meeting in the history of the Paul Chapman & Sons Arena.

The Watling JCB Lions overcame an excellent Redcar side 50-40 on the night and 91-89 on aggregate in a semi-final which went right down to a tension-filled last-race decider.

Skipper Scott Nicholls and Ryan Douglas saw the Lions over the line as they fended off league Riders’ Champion Erik Riss throughout four frantic laps, to set up a Grand Final showdown with Glasgow.

Leicester will visit Ashfield on Friday before staging the second leg back at home next Saturday with the league title the prize for the winners.

Initially, the Lions did an excellent job to wipe out their eight-point deficit from last week’s trip to Teesside, and they were level on aggregate after six races.

But the Bears dug in and prevented their opponents from ever going more than four points up overall, and it always seemed to be heading towards a tight finish with the meeting raced in a tremendous atmosphere with a big crowd, including terrific travelling support from Redcar.

Lions collected two 4-2s in the first five races to halve the initial gap, but there were problems in Heat 2 when the Bears’ Tom Woolley brought down Connor Mountain on turn four, leaving the home side’s star reserve somewhat short of his usual contribution as he struggled with a back complaint.

Meanwhile Heat 3 produced stunning action with Ellis Perks passing Jordan Stewart for the win on the last lap whilst guest Steve Worrall salvaged third from Jake Allen, the Bears guest having initially gated on a 5-1 before dropping to the back and then overtaking Worrall again.

There was more top-class action in Heat 6 as Nicholls rounded former Leicester man Riss for the win whilst Ty Proctor, who had led British Champion Charles Wright for a lap in the opening race, switched inside the German on the last lap for a brilliant second place.

That levelled the aggregate scores and Douglas pounced on an error by Stewart in Heat 7 to maintain that position with Joe Lawlor’s late charge for the line seeing him ruled to have just missed out on third place in a blanket finish.

Lions did take the aggregate lead in Heat 8 as Proctor dominated whilst Mountain passed Greaves when the Bears reserve locked up on turn four – and another 4-2 followed in the next with Worrall and Perks being split by Riss.

But the Bears weren’t about to lie down and won three of the next four races, taking a useful 4-2 of their own in Heat 12 when Allen stormed past Worrall whilst Greaves held Mountain at bay for third place.

Heat 13 always looked crucial and Lions appeared to have an opening when Wright made an error on the first bend leaving him at the back – but Riss charged through the narrowest of gaps into turn three to move Nicholls and Douglas aside and maintain a 3-3.

Perks handled the pressure of Heat 14 to keep Lions ahead overall, but their margin remained just two points as Mountain slipped off on the second lap when once again chasing Greaves.

That set up a last-heat decider where a Redcar 5-1 would take them through, or a 4-2 would set up golden heats – whereas Lions knew a 3-3 would do the job.

As Wright stormed from the outside, the home riders concentrated on keeping Riss at the back with Nicholls blocking superbly to prevent a repeat of Heat 13 – before the most nervous of moments midway through the race when the Leicester captain lifted on turn four, almost into the path of Douglas, only to somehow maintain control and keep the crucial 3-3 situation.

There was no way through for Riss, and the Lions were through to the Grand Final amidst scenes of jubilation – albeit with another major job to do next weekend.

Manager Stewart Dickson said: “The meeting had absolutely everything, and I think that’s what the play-offs bring.

“I’ve never had riders asking me so often what the score was, because normally they’re concentrating on their own jobs, but they all knew how important and close it was.

“We had the start we wanted, not quite as good as Redcar’s last week, but we knew they were only ever a heat advantage away from getting back into it, and then with races running out we could have been in trouble.

“Heat 15 was sheer drama for it to happen in that way, and talking to Stevie Worrall afterwards he reckoned that if it had been anyone other than Scott there, he would have collected Ryan Douglas.

“Scott hit a spot and our hearts were in our mouths at that point, but the boys kept their composure, and that race showed exactly what it means for us all.

“Everyone will go away feeling they’ve been entertained, but it’s all about us getting into the Grand Final, and it’s a great achievement for the riders.

“I’m also very happy for the owners, and we’ve set ourselves up for a massive weekend. Leicester and Glasgow have been the two top teams in the league this season, so I think it’s an appropriate Final.”

LEICESTER 50: Scott Nicholls 11+1, Ryan Douglas 11+1, Ellis Perks 8+1, Steve Worrall 8, Ty Proctor 7+2, Connor Mountain 4+1, Joe Lawlor 1+1.
REDCAR 40: Charles Wright 10, Erik Riss 9, Jake Allen 8, Jordan Stewart 5+1, Nathan Greaves 5+1, Kasper Andersen 3+1, Tom Woolley 0.
Leicester win 91-89 on aggregate.




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