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Mildenhall Fen Tigers – proudly sponsored by Manchetts Rescue and Recovery – were left cursing their misfortune when a controversial first heat incident cost them dearly as they went down to a narrow 47-43 defeat away to Kent Royals on Sunday afternoon (20/8). 

A spirited late meeting comeback saw the bonus point (awarded for aggregate success once both home & away league matches have been contested) secured; but that was but meagre consolation after a second successive National Development League [NDL] reverse leaves the Suffolk Fenmen’s hopes of a top two finish and thus qualification for the end of season title-deciding play offs hanging by a thread. 

Looking back on the match when it was to end with just a four point winning margin for the home side, one cannot help but dwell on the events right at the start of proceedings in heat one.

Stopped initially after a first bend fall by the Royals’ young NDL debutant Ashton Vale, the rerun featuring again all four riders (the respective number ones, Ben Morley and Fen Tigers’ skipper Alfie Bowtell, Vale and the ever-plucky Arran Butcher) started with Bowtell passing the fast-gating Morley coming out of bend two. The Royals’ number one then clearly suffered machine problems slowing almost to a halt as Butcher went past him also, going down the back straight. Going into bend three, the back marker Vale took a tumble again. With the red lights on and Vale disqualified as the cause of the latest stoppage, all expected to hear that Morley would also be out of the next rerun as he was clearly about to pack up in the race due to his mechanical woes; but no, the referee decided he was still under power and so the twice League Riders’ Champion was allowed to come to the tapes for the third staging and promptly got a race win meaning a 3-3 start to the meeting.

Fen Tigers’ team boss Jason Gardner commented on the controversial matter,

“We should, I felt, have got a 5-0 in heat one as more often than not in such circumstances with a rider about to pack up he would be deemed to have been not under power and disqualified from the rerun. I spoke to the ref and he said that in this case Morley was, though slowing through some mechanical problem, still technically under power. I can see that but he certainly wasn’t racing and, as I say, the majority of times there’s such an incident it leads to a rider in that position being excluded from the subsequent rerun. It was an early blow to see a 5-0 turned into a 3-3 and clearly ended up being decisive in the final mix”

Morley’s eventual win in that extended opener was actually the fastest time of the season and the hosts continued the theme of a fast start by moving onto a eight points lead after just four heats – it could indeed have been worse for Mildenhall but for two excellent passing moves, one by stand-in reserve Sam Woolley (his first ride in a Fen Tigers’ race jacket, back at his former home track) to overhaul Vale in heat two and a typically spirited effort by skipper Lee Complin two races later to get past Suffolk-based Connor King, the Royals’ reserve on the very final bend.

The race of the afternoon was Heat 11, a battle of the ‘old boys’ when ex-Fen Tiger Nathan Ablitt and ex-Royal Bowtell came to the line with Kent back to holding an eight points advantage. Bowtell made the start but Ablitt was in hot pursuit and made a pass up the inside of the Fen Tigers’ number one, up the inside down the back straight and into the third bend. Bowtell then quickly switched back to the inside to repay his rival down the home straight and into the opening bend of the second lap, only for Ablitt to switch back himself and repeat the move he’d made on the opening lap and once again take the lead - this time covering Bowtell’s move at the start of the third lap and going onto take on the win. 

With a 4-2 to the homesters following in the next race, the upshot was that going into heat 13, the Fen Tigers now trailed by 10 and at the point of no return. Three heats to go meant only a pair of maximum heat advantages coupled with at least a 4-2 could keep hopes alive now of a match victory vital to their title-hunting cause; whilst on the other hand, if things went the other way (and there was unbeaten Morley and in-form Ablitt to contend with) the aggregate bonus point could also potentially be surrendered.   

Lining up in heat 13 were Bowtell and skipper Complin, with the travelling Fen Tigers’ faithful well aware of the salvation jobs the pair had already delivered in a number of matches this term. This time Bowtell powered away to leave Morley in his wake; Complin though was initially at the back but passing first Morley and then going into lap four over-hauling Ablitt also.

As Gardner commented,

“It was one of the races of the season by Lee [Complin] – going from last to second for a 5-1 which gave a measure of hope going into the final two heats and in any case secured us the vital bonus point”.

Unfortunately the miracle escape wasn’t going to happen this time – for though NZ national champion George Congreve kept up his splendid record of winning heat 14, it was a drawn race meaning there was only pride to ride for by Bowtell (with another splendidly commanding race win) and Complin in heat 15.

Gardner summed up the thoughts of all in the Fen Tigers’ camp,

“It was another frustrating meeting. Missing Josh Warren at reserve cost us very badly, when one considers how well he rode the Iwade track in our previous meetings here. Our weakness at reserve was compounded by young William Richardson having some bad bike problems this afternoon. We may to accept that Josh [concussion victim] is likely now to be out for the rest of the season, so that’s not going to be easy to deal with, with so few options around to draft in a replacement.

“There were positives too of course: Alfie [Bowtell] rode superbly, especially in the latter stages of the match and Lee [Complin] was everything we expect from our skipper on and off the track. A word too about Arran [Butcher] who was great value for money, putting in a great effort at no 2.”

The Fen Tigers’ cause wasn’t helped one bit then by the Royals capitulating to a 39-51 defeat, in the second part of the double header, to the side sitting one place above Mildenhall in the NDL standings, Oxford Chargers.  

The upshot of a disappointing afternoon leaves the Fen Tigers in third place in the table on 16 points from 11 (out of 14) matches with chief rivals, Oxford second on 18 points from 10 matches and sitting on top of the pile are reigning champions, Leicester Lion Cubs on 19 points, also from 10 matches.  

The two sides above them meet at Leicester next Saturday with Fen Tigers’ fans and management alike left to muse on what kind of a result in that match-up most suits Mildenhall’s cause….

Kent Royals 47
Ben Morley      3, 3, 3, 0, 0      = 9
Rhys Naylor R/R
Matt Marson (G) 2’, 0, 3, 1’, 3    = 9+2
Tom Woolley     3, 1, 2, 2         = 8
Nathan Ablitt   3, 3, 3, 1, 2      = 12
Ashton Vale     FX, 1, 1, 0, 0     = 2
Connor King     3, 1, 1, FX, 1, 1’ = 7+1
James Laker     DNR

Mildenhall Fen Tigers 43
Alfie Bowtell      2, 3, 2, 3, 3  = 13
Arran Butcher      1’, 2’, 2, 1’  = 6+3
Ben Trigger        0, 2, 1’, 2    = 5+1
George Congreve    1, F, 2, 3     = 6
Lee Complin        2, 2, 3, 2’, 1 = 10+1
William Richardson 0, 0, 0, 0     = 0
Sam Woolley        2, 0, 1’, 0    = 3+1

Heat details
1 (rerun twice) Morley, Bowtell, Butcher, Vale (fell exc.) 57.4  [3-3]
2 King, S. Woolley, Vale, Richardson 59.8  [7-5]
3 T. Woolley, Marson, Congreve, Trigger 60.4  [12-6]
4 Ablitt, Complin, King, S. Woolley 59.3  [16-8]
5 Bowtell, Butcher, T. Woolley, Marson 59.5  [17-13]
6 Morley, Complin, King, Richardson 59.4  [21-15]
7 Ablitt, Trigger, Vale, Congreve (fell) 59.4  [25-17]
8 (rerun) Marson, Butcher, S. Woolley, King (fell exc.) 60.7  [28-20]
9 Complin, T. Woolley, Marson, Richardson 60.0  [31-23]
10 Morley, Congreve, Trigger, Vale 60.4  [34-26]
11 Ablitt, Bowtell, Butcher, Vale 60.8  [37-29]
12 Marson, Trigger, King, Richardson 60.9  [41-31]
13 Bowtell, Complin, Ablitt, Morley 60.6  [42-36]
14 (rerun) Congreve, T. Woolley, King, S. Woolley 61.0  [45-39]
15 Bowtell, Ablitt, Complin, Morley 60.6  [47-43]