LEICESTER’S dramatic fightback from eight points down saw them just edged out 46-44 at Oxford in a thrilling ROWE Motor Oil Premiership contest.

The Watling JCB Lions did have the mild consolation of the aggregate point across the two recent clashes with the Spires, but they left Cowley very much with a feeling of what might have been.

Lions trailed 34-26 with five races to go as the hosts looked set for a comfortable win, but the visitors came right back into contention and it took some dramatic moves from Oxford riders to get their side over the line.

The early stages of the meeting saw Lions struggle to handle the home combination of Rohan Tungate and Charles Wright, who raced to a 5-1 over Max Fricke and Richard Lawson in Heat 1 and then repeated the feat in Heat 6 against Sam Masters and Craig Cook.

Masters and Ryan Douglas had been winners in their opening outings for the Lions, who picked up a 4-2 in Heat 5, but the six-point deficit enabled a tactical substitute outing for Fricke in Heat 7.

He won the race holding off the challenge of Chris Harris for the three points, but partner Douglas was kept at the back by Erik Riss and the Spires then extended their lead to eight points in Heat 8 with Wright and Ashton Boughen briefly holding a 5-1 position until Lawson took second place.

The sides then traded 4-2s with the Lions seemingly making progress in Heat 9 as Masters defeated Maciej Janowski with Cook third, but they lost a 4-2 in the next as Tungate made it three wins on the bounce and Douglas just held off Wright for second place.

Lions gated on a 5-1 in Heat 11 only for Harris to split Lawson and Fricke, but the visitors roared back into contention as Cook gated in Heat 12 and was joined up front by Luke Becker with a strong first lap move to make it 37-35.

The final three races produced some great action with Lions holding another 5-1 in Heat 13, headed by Fricke, before Tungate and then Harris worked their way past Masters for a 3-3.

Again Lions looked like they could get level or even better in Heat 14 as Douglas and Cook hit the front only for Janowski, enjoying arguably his best performance for Oxford, to move past Cook early in the race and then snatch the win from Douglas on the line.

That kept Oxford two points up heading into the decider, where once again the Lions gated on a 5-1 – but with Fricke in the lead, Tungate moved inside Masters for second and with a 45-45 draw and a Super Heat looking likely, Janowski made his move on the outside with one lap to go to snatch the crucial third place for a narrow home win.

Lions manager Stewart Dickson said: “Without being disrespectful we did feel the aggregate point was probably always going to be in our pocket, and we went there looking for more than a point.

“Oxford looked the better team up until the interval, there’s no doubt about that, but we got ourselves back into it. We got together, had a team talk and we felt gates one and three were going to come into it for us.

“We weren’t really in the match for a win, and then all of a sudden we looked like we were going to steal it, but we got caught on the line a couple of times and they ended up stealing it back.

“If there were any neutrals there it would have been a good meeting for them, and congratulations to Oxford, but for us the boys are down, and I’m a bit down myself.

“As I keep saying, I need seven riders to score points, and again I didn’t get that. We’re working towards it and we’ll keep at it, but at the moment I’m having to give the same answers.

“I can’t fault the effort and I won’t single people out. I wanted a big, aggressive finish, I got the response from my team, and they don’t need to be told that we let it slip because the ones who were involved are gutted. We just came up a bit short.”

Lions now have ten days off before resuming their league campaign at home to King’s Lynn on Thursday June 13.

OXFORD 46: Rohan Tungate 13, Maciej Janowski 9+2, Charles Wright 8+2, Chris Harris 6+2, Ashton Boughen 6, Erik Riss 2+1, Lewis Kerr 2.
LEICESTER 44: Max Fricke 14, Sam Masters 7, Ryan Douglas 7, Craig Cook 6+2, Richard Lawson 6, Luke Becker 2+1, Sam Hagon 2.
Leicester win the aggregate point

Photo credit: LES AUBREY

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