Cases Somerset Rebels will take a 14-point lead to Suffolk on Thursday for a League Cup decider at Ipswich Witches (writes Ian Belcher).
The Rebels had home advantage in last night's first leg at the Oaktree Arena, and took full advantage by claiming a 53-39 win.
Somerset went into this match without their inspirational skipper, Jason Doyle, his season having come to a premature end as a result of the neck injury he sustained in the Premier League Riders’ Championship.
But the home side had drafted in American Ryan Fisher as a guest replacement, he being a renowned exponent around the Oaktree Arena.
However after the first five heats hopes of a decent first leg lead looked no more than a pipe-dream as Ipswich contained the Rebels to maintain parity with their hosts.
Both sides suffered mechanical misfortune as Alex Davies, for the Rebels, found himself stranded on the start-line in heat one, and although he did manage to eventually get under way, the rest of the field were already some half a lap ahead, while Dakota North shed a chain in heat three whilst under pressure from Monberg.
The home fans were able to breathe a little easier after the conclusion of heat six as Fisher made it two wins out of two, but crucially Alex Davies overcame his first heat gremlins to sweep around the outside of the Ipswich duo in the first turn to join Fisher up front to give Somerset a maximum 5-1 heat win to break the deadlock.
Ipswich immediately hit back as North took victory in heat seven, he getting better drive off the second bend to pass Somerset’s Claus Vissing, but that was just the start of the story as Vissing then tried every line possible in order to get back into the lead with ex-Rebel North thwarting every move to hold on to his lead, and with Taylor Poole picking up the point for third place, the Witches brought themselves back to within two points of the Rebels.
That was, however, to be as good as it got for the visitors as Somerset now stepped it up a gear, with Davies and Newman combining for a second maximum race win in three heats for the Rebels, the pair doing all the ‘hard work’ in the opening turn.
Monberg followed that up with his first race win of the night in heat nine, he getting the better of Ipswich’s Rohan Tungate on the opening lap, whilst behind them Wright and Tresarrieu were passing and re-passing each other for third place. Wright finally got the upper hand on the final lap to put the Rebels eight points to the good.
A share of the spoils ensued in heat 10 as while North made it two wins on the bounce, Davies and Fisher packed in for the minor places before Somerset further extended their lead in heat 11, Lanham gaining the initial advantage only for Vissing to pass as the pair hit the third bend for the first time.
Lanham immediately came back at Vissing, the second lap seeing him edge back in front but it was to be a fleeting moment of joy for the Ipswich number 1 as Vissing regained the lead, before going on to take the race victory while Newman picked up the point for third place to put Somerset into a 10-point lead, it being the cue for Ipswich to deploy the black and while helmet colour for a double point tactical ride.
The responsibility for trying to get the Witches back into the match was given Mathieu Tresarrieu, but the race got no further than the first bend as Taylor Poole found himself making a closer inspection of the Oaktree track surface than he really wanted, referee Ronnie Allan deciding on a re-run with all four riders.
At the second time of asking, it looked as if the Ipswich tactical move was going to pay dividends as Tresarrieu hit the front, but he was quickly relegated to second place as Monberg came flying past as the riders took to the back straight for the first time.
Meanwhile Newman had managed to edge himself past Poole and into third place, but it was to be but a short-lived moment as Poole quickly regained the position, but with Monberg taking the race win, the Ipswich tactical move was only a minor success, as it only provided an additional two extra points for the Witches, to leave Somerset with an eight-point lead and three heats remaining.
Somerset made sure of the match win in heat 13 as Vissing and Fisher combined for a maximum 5-1 heat advantage, the third of the night for the Rebels.
The pair hit the front from the off and although Lanham did put Fisher under some pressure for second place, he was easily contained by the Rebel guest rider.
Confusion reigned at the start of heat 14 as both Somerset riders came to the tapes wearing the blue helmet colour, but with that resolved, it was Dakota North who held the initial sway, only for Somerset’s Kyle Newman to nip past and into the lead as they came off the second bend.
Despite North putting Newman under severe pressure the Somerset reserve maintained his resolve to take the race win, just holding off North’s final blast for the line.
Behind this battle, another was being played out for third place as Wright, who found himself at the back after lifting as the riders left the start, was embroiled in a ding-dong fight with Tresarrieu, the Frenchman just doing enough to hold off Somerset’s stand-in captain.
As the riders came to the tapes for the final race, it saw Somerset holding a 12-point lead with hopes of extending that out to a 16-point advantage for the second leg, but as the tapes rose it was Lanham who hit the front for the Witches, only to find Fisher and Vissing pass either side of him as the riders went down the back straight for the first time.
Lanham did, however, have the better line into the third turn and just managed to get himself over the top of Vissing to hang on the second place, Fisher now long gone up front. Having lost some momentum, Vissing quickly found himself under pressure from Dakota North, Ipswich’s other representative in the race.
He repelled all North’s attempts to get past into third place, but there was little more than a wheel length between the pair as they crossed the finishing line with Vissing just doing enough to pick up the point for third, the 4-2 race result giving the Rebels victory on the night 53-39.
In conclusion, this was a classic Cup encounter with both teams playing their part in making it the highly entertaining meeting it was.
For the Rebels, Ryan Fisher proved himself a more an adequate guest replacement for the injured Jason Doyle, with Monberg, Vissing, who was awarded the Somerset Rider of the Night Award, Davies and Newman all making valuable contributions, while North and Lanham were the pick of the Ipswich septet, though their 16-year-old guest reserve Adam Ellis, on this showing at least, looks to have a good future in the sport.
The result leaves this League Cup Final nicely poised as Somerset now head to Ipswich’s Foxhall Stadium on Thursday with a 14-point lead to defend as they look to lift their first team trophy since 2008.