Cases Somerset Rebels got the result they needed to reach the Premier League play-off final by beating Leicester Lions last night (writes Dave Thompson).
With the West Country seemingly having spent the last week preparing for a second visit from Noah and his menagerie, the prospects for this meeting appeared a little grim.
But the weather relented just long enough to get the meeting under way, and completed before the deluge returned.
Referee Dave Watters kept the meeting ticking along at a brisk pace, as the Rebels set out on the path to gain the three points they required to see them into the final.
With the Rebels at full strength, the visitors were forced to run ‘rider replacement’ for Lasse Bjerre, who was already committed to attend the Czech Golden Helmet, when the original running of this meeting was called.
They also tracked Lewis Kerr at reserve in place of broken collarbone victim, Lewis Blackbird.
Jason Doyle got the meeting under way with a lightning start that saw him lead all the way from Lions skipper, Kauko Nieminen. Alex Davies found room tight at the first turn, as he was shuffled to the back of the field, but he chased hard all the way, and was challenging back at the third turn, however he could not find a way back into the fray, and the opening heat was shared.
The Rebels took their first advantage in heat two, when Kyle Newman made the best start to just lead into the first turn, with Lewis Kerr pressing him hard. Kerr kept up the pressure for a couple of laps, before Newman asserted his authority.
Tom Perry recovered from a tardy start to collect third place off the final bend of the lap, demoting former Rebel, Jari Makinen to the rear, as he swept around the wide line into the straight.
With the tracks still fairly greasy, Perry closed down Kerr over the next couple of laps, but could not work a passing opportunity.
Another shared heat followed after Jesper B Monberg and Linus Eklof had contested the early stages of heat three. It was the Rebels man who prevailed at the first turn, clamping Eklof to the kerb. That was virtually the story of the race, as Monberg pulled well clear, and James Wright struggled at the rear after missing the start completely.
Heat four went to the Rebels, with Claus Vissing making the best of a level break, to lead into the first bend. Magnus Karlsson was next to show, and came roaring off the second bend to challenge Vissing hard down the back straight and into the third turn.
Vissing repelled the test from the Swede, to go on and take the win, but as he came down the back straight for the final time, his machine sounded slightly edgy, and off the final bend he slowed, but just hung on for the win from the fast finishing Karlsson.
Behind them Tom Perry was slow out of the traps, before nipping up the inside of Lewis Kerr on the third turn of lap two, to claim the minor place.
The Lions took their first heat win in the fifth renewal, but not before two restarts. The first running was called back after the referee called James Wright for a big jump at the tapes, and then Jan Graversen blasted through the barrier, forcing another re-run and bringing Lewis Kerr into the line up.
In the final try, Kauko Nieminen flew from the tapes, and won unchallenged, pulling clear over the final couple of laps. The only action behind him was as the Rebels exchanged places at the conclusion of the first lap, with Jesper B Monberg taking up second spot, as the points were shared.
The pattern of shared heats and Rebels 4-2s continued in heat six, when Alex Davies beat Magnus Karlsson to the drop.
Jason Doyle, by his own standards, made an awful start, but had soon gone by Jari Makinen, and was pressing Karlsson up the inside of the third turn, but his attack was beaten off, and try as he might he could not make any further headway.
At the front Davies was steaming ahead, pulling further and further clear with every turn of the wheels.
The pattern of heats was broken in heat seven, when the Lions took their first advantage of the night. Jan Graversen and Linus Eklof blasted from the tapes, leaving the Rebels pair of Claus Vissing and Kyle Newman floundering in their wake.
Vissing chased down Eklof, and took up the chase on Graversen down the back straight, but to no avail, as his fellow Dane was untouchable. Kyle Newman never got in the hunt, as the Lions took a 2-4 heat win.
The Lions loaded the dice in heat eight, giving Magnus Karlsson the replacement ride. The tactic worked to a degree as Karlsson out trapped Alex Davies and Tom Perry at the tapes, with a flying start.
Davies took up the challenge and chipped away at Karlsson lead over the next three laps, before conjuring up a storming run off the final two bends of the race, as he flew up the inner, almost catching Karlsson at the line. Tom Perry easily held third spot, with Lewis Kerr well beaten, as the points were shared.
Heat nine had the unusual sight of two riders off a 15-metre handicap, after Magnus Karlsson demolished the tapes, and James Wright was subsequently excluded for delaying the start, after having received an official warning in the fifth heat.
The restart saw both Rebels beat their opponents off the line. At the front Jesper B Monberg shot off the line to lead up Jari Makinen, whilst Wright made short work of demoting Karlsson to the rear.
By the end of the first lap, Wright had caught and passed Makinen, and that was it, race over, with the Rebels taking a full house of points. Makinen retired at the end of lap three, and Karlsson had to suffer a push home for the final point, after he had fallen when his chain let go on the final turn of the race.
Having finally broken loose from a the Lions, the Rebels hammered home a second successive maximum in heat 10 to take them 12 points to the good, as Jason Doyle beat Linus Eklof off the gate to lead into the turn.
Alex Davies Found a clear path around the inside of the opening bends to join Doyle at the head of affairs. Once at the front the Rebels rode to a bloodless victory, with Jan Graversen taking the minor points for the Lions.
The Lions were quick to use the tactical move, sending the captain, Kauko Nieminen, out in the ‘Black and White’.
The visiting fans had visions of a 1-8 advantage as the Lions pair took control after a level break, and Kyle Newman retired just yards after the start. Newman’s woes were caused by a split fuel pipe, draining the tank of fuel, with the last few drops used in the start.
Claus Vissing was soon pressing Lewis Kerr for second, but the Kings Lynn Young Stars youngster held him off manfully for two laps, until succumbing to a Vissing charge of the final bend of Lap 2. However he wasn’t done, and sneaked back into second, before finally having to give best on the first turn of the next lap. The resulting 2-7 advantage cut the Lions deficit to seven points.
If ever a lap of speedway demonstrated the courage displayed by speedway riders, and the trust they put in their fellow competitors, it was the opening lap of heat 12.
A level break had seen Linus Eklof and Jari Makinen just lead up, but Tom Perry came charging around the outside to streak past Makinen in the opener, and challenge Eklof.
The young Swede moved Perry out wide, appearing to deny the Midlands based racer a run to the front, but Perry had other ideas, and kept the throttle wide open. The pair raced wheel-to-wheel, with Perry perilously close to the safety fence.
It seemed impossible that there was enough room for Perry to negotiate the bends, but negotiate them he did, until Eklof finally got the upper hand as they ran around the first turn of lap two.
It was a stunningly brave ride by Perry, and one that could have ended in disaster at any time; it was just breathtaking stuff from two young chargers. In the end Eklof went on to take an easy win, as Jesper B Monberg took second spot on lap, having been just a spectator for the dazzling opening exchanges. Jari Makinen retired on lap three.
Still seven points to the good, the Rebels could not afford any slip ups over the final three heats, and they looked to have made a huge step to ensuring that that would be the case as Jason Doyle jetted from the line in heat 13 to lead up, but had Magnus Karlsson pressing on the inside.
Karlsson moved Doyle wide into the dirt and in the process left a big hole on his inside. It was an invitation that Claus Vissing couldn’t refuse, and he guided through between the lions duo to lead off the second turn, but no sooner had he got his nose in front, disaster struck, and his machine failed, and he ground to a halt amidst shrieks of disgust.
Doyle was soon back at the front, beating off Karlsson’s challenge as he powered around the wide line off the final turn of the lap.
The Lions pair kept Doyle up to his mettle, as they pressured him all the way to the flag, but try as they might, neither could find a way to deny him the win.
The Rebels put the result virtually beyond doubt in heat 14, piling in a maximum advantage to open up an almost unassailable lead for the three match points. A level break saw Kyle Newman lead before the turn, with James Wright at his back.
Wright moved out into the dirt, taking the widest of lines to give the Rebels the track position.
The pair raced together with Wright just leading after the first lap. Jan Graversen closed over the next couple of laps, and looked to have just got the measure of Newman, when he came down on the first turn of the final lap, with what appeared to be a mechanical failure to his machine, giving the Rebels the maximum advantage in the process.
Whatever ailed Graversen’s bike, it prompted him to produce a nice little comedy moment as he gave it a swift kick before retiring to the pits.
Whilst it was mathematically possible for the Lions to sneak an away point from the tie, the Rebels were never going to let it happen. Jason Doyle and Jesper B Monberg were entrusted with the nominated heat, but Monberg’s bike seized on the stand, and his place was taken by Alex Davies.
For the visitors the obvious choices came to the track, in the shape of Kauko Nieminen and Magnus Karlsson. As the tapes rose Jason Doyle caught a big lift, but was still able to lead into the turn, with Magnus Karlsson close up.
Alex Davies was slower into his stride, but soon had it rolling along. He made a neat inside move on Karlsson at the final turn, as the Swedish ace was trying the same move on Doyle.
Whilst Davies’s move had a successful outcome, Karlsson wasn’t so lucky, with the Rebels duo taking the advantage, one on either side of him. Davies stormed off into a lead, with Doyle in his wheel tracks, but at the line the pair were almost inseparable, with Davies just taking the spoils, and the resulting 5-1, giving the Rebels a final 54-39 win.
The final score line did not do the visitors full justice, as they kept the Rebels under pressure for most of the tie, and it was only in the latter stages, where the home side’s strength in depth told.
For the Lions, skipper Kauko Nieminen and Magnus Karlsson banked the majority of the points, with Nieminen producing a top scoring 12+1, including a six-point tactical. Karlsson scored points in every ride, posting an 11-point tally in the process.
They were backed up by a decent 7-point haul from Linus Eklof, with Jan Graversen worth more than his five. Lewis Kerr proved to be a worthy guest booking with his four-point return, but Jari Makinen suffered a frustrating night of mechanical problems.
The entire Rebels septet produced valuable points, with Jason Doyle and Alex Davies top of the shop, with 12+1 and 10+1 respectively.
Jesper B Monberg weighed in with nine points, with James Wright and Claus Vissing posting 7+1 and 7. Whilst the reserve tally was a creditable paid 12 between them, with Tom Perry’s heat 12 ride the highlight.
Jason Doyle’s performance earned him the ‘Rider of the Night’ award from the match sponsors, ‘Harris Brothers Car Breakers’.
The Rebels must now wait for the outcome of the opposite group, to see who their opponents will be in the Play-off Final, with Scunthorpe currently sitting top of the pile, but the final outcome will not be known, until Workington and Edinburgh complete their matches.
The Rebels next match should now be the League Cup Final, against either Ipswich or Workington.