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Sunday
2 April, 4:00pm

NDL

Mildenhall
Fen Tigers
v
Kent
Royals

A superb performance up in the Scottish Borders on Saturday (8/10) has put Mildenhall Fen Tigers – proudly sponsored by Manchetts Rescue and Recovery – in a good position to get into the 2022 National Development League [NDL] Play Off Final, going down by the narrow margin of 46-43 in the first leg of the semi-final vs. Berwick Bullets.

Stand up performances came at opposite ends of the Fenmen’s sextet, with skipper and number one Jason Edwards delivering a sweet sixteen points and debutant 15-year-old Luke Harrison also in double figures, winning three heats and amassing a brilliant 11 points in his first ever senior competitive match.

But it was an all-round team showing which made light of the fearsome reputation of the tricky Shielfield Park circuit, where the hosts have gone two full NDL home campaigns undefeated, taking the Fen Tigers to the cusp of victory on the night and in a position now to finish the job when they host the Tweedsiders next weekend at West Row.

It was doubtless in boss Jason Gardner’s pre-match team talk, not to allow a side with such a good home record to get an early hold on the match and so wins by Edwards in heat one and then Harrison in the reserves race in heat two were exactly the ticket. Reigning GB Youth Champion Harrison, in his first ever NDL race, bided his time after both Bullets were fast out of gate. The north-easterner teen went past Kieran Douglas on the third bend of lap one and then on the matching bend two laps later he hit the front by going around the impressive Mason Watson.

Harrison was to go on and win two more races on what was a dream debut: both times in absolutely crucial 5-1s which had the effect of reigning in the homesters just when it seemed as if the match could get away from the Fen Tigers. Those were in successive races in heats 11 and 12. 

Going into the crucial third stanza of the match, the Fen Tigers had found themselves 12 points behind – after those two Harrison wins anchored by second places respectively by his skipper Edwards and Josh Warren, the deficit was down to a mere four and that contribution really was crucial. 

There have been a couple more prolific points scoring-wise debuts in a Fen Tigers’ race jacket by a league newcomer but probably none more vital to the Suffolk club’s cause.

Young Luke’s heat two heroics wasn’t the only third to first effort by the on-song visitors. Two heats later Jack Kingston made an instant impact, turning a a potential 1-5 against his side into points equality after passing Watson at the start of lap four and then surging past the vastly experienced Greg Blair on the run in to the chequered flag.

It was Kingston who had the run-in of all time to really put the seal on an amazing performance by Gardner’s plucky charges. Having gone into heat 11, 12 points behind, the two successive 5-1s had put the match right back in the balance for the Fen Tigers – would heat 13 be unlucky?  Well. It was one of misfortune but all coming good for the visitors. First, the Bullets’ skipper Kyle Bickley, clearly put under pressure by the Mildenhall comeback, went straight through the tapes – meaning the former Youth World Champ was now on a 15 metres handicap. Faced with such a deficit, Bickley fell in the rerun, leading to a stoppage which, fortuitously, was moments after the other Bullet in the race, Blair had misfired. Not under power at the point of stoppage, the Scotsman was also disqualified.  So nothing now could stop the Fen Tigers taking the lead in an uncontested second rerun. Well, one thing possibly could – Kingston falling heavily on the opening bend of lap four and when attempting to remount finding his cut off had engaged. So now there was a challenge – his team mate Edwards had crossed the finishing like for the race win and the rules state that to get second place he needed to push home within two minutes. A great and doubtless energy sapping push on the longest circuit in the NDL saw Jack just do it (all the more admirable as he’d suffered concussion as diagnosed at the race end). 5-0 and remarkably now the Fen Tigers led by a point with two heats to go!

An unfortunate fall by Harrison in the penultimate race saw the hosts regain the lead but then Edwards completed a great evening for him all round (as both number one and captain) ending the Bullets’ top man Luke Crang of a maximum and ensuring that the deficit Mildenhall need to overcome this coming Sunday is just three points.

Berwick Bullets 46
Kyle Bickley         2 3 3 Fx              = 8
Ace Pijper           0 2' 2 2' 1'           = 7+3
Ben Rathbone     F 1 1                   = 2
Luke Crang         3 3 3 3 2             = 14
Greg Blair           1' 2' FX X             = 3+2
Kieran Douglas   1' R 1                   = 2+1
Mason Watson    2 2 3 1 F 2'          = 10+1

Mildenhall Fen Tigers 43
Jason Edwards   3 2 3 2' 3 3         = 16+1
James Shanes – Rider Replacement
Josh Warren      1' 0 1 0 2'            = 4+2
Alex Spooner     1 2 0 1 1              = 5
Jack Kingston     3 1 F 2'                = 6+1
Luke Harrison     3 0 2 3 3 FX FX    = 11
Luke Muff          0 F 1                    = 1
Owen Booth      DNR

Heat details
1 Edwards, Bickley, Spooner, Pijper 67.1   (4-2)
2 Harrison, Watson, Douglas, Muff 69.5  (5-7)
3 Crang, Spooner, Warren, Rathbone (fell) 69.9   (8-10)
4 Kingston, Watson, Blair Muff (fell) 71.1  (11-13)
5 Crang, Edwards, Rathbone, Warren 68.7  (15-15)
6 Bickley, Pijper, Kingston, Harrison (fell rem.) 68.6  (20-16)
7 Watson, Blair, Warren, Spooner. 70.6  (25-17)
8 Edwards, Pijper, Muff, Douglas (fell rem. ret.) 69.0  (27-21)
9 Crang, Harrison, Watson, Kingston (fell) 69.5  (31-23)
10 Bickley, Pijper, Spooner, Warren 68.5 (36-24)
11 (rerun) Harrison, Edwards, Douglas Blair (fell exc.) 69.9 (37-29)
12 Harrison, Warren, Rathbone, Watson (fell) 70.8 (38-34)
13 Edwards, Kingston (fell – pushed home), Bickley (tapes exc. 15 m; fell exc.), Blair (exc. NUP)  71.2 (38-39)
14 (rerun) Crang, Watson, Spooner, Harrison (fell exc.) 69.7 (43-40)
15 (stpd; awarded) Edwards, Crang, Pijper, Harrison (fell) no time (46-43)