KNOCKOUT Cup holders Mildenhall will take a two-point lead back to West Row for next Sunday’s second leg after edging out Coventry Storm in a highly eventual clash at Brandon on Friday.
The Storm battled back from a mid-meeting eight-point deficit and could well have snatched victory on the night but for some mechanical misfortune – but in the end they were left to rue problems at the start of the meeting.
Even so, there remain more than enough signs of promise in Coventry’s opening displays at National League level, and their encouraging recent performance at Mildenhall means this tie itself is far from over.
The Fen Tigers arrived without both of their regular top two riders, but Adam Ellis proved an impeccable stand-in for Stefan Nielsen until crashing heavily in Heat 13 – whilst the visitors worked hard to cover for the absence of Jon Armstrong, who had become a father earlier in the day.
Storm No.1 Joe Jacobs fell in Heat 1 when battling with Aaron Baseby, and Robert Branford was the victim of an uncompromising first bend from Josh Bates in Heat 3 which left the home side six-points down, although they had admittedly been fortunate in Heat 2 when Nathan Stoneman fell whilst holding a 5-1 position.
Race advantages thereafter were few and far between with Mildenhall managing a 4-2 in Heat 7 when Bates, who very much let his racing do the talking on the night, impressively held off James Sarjeant, whilst the Storm saw a likely 4-2 disappear when Richard Franklin fell on the third lap of Heat 10.
Jacobs and Branford were taking control of matters with a series of race wins, but the Storm slipped ten-down when Tommy Fenwick, a winner in his first ride, fell on the last bend of Heat 11, and that enabled Branford to go for double-points in Heat 12.
A 6-3 looked likely as Branford led with Martin Knuckey taking an early tumble, but he gained reward for re-mounting when Bates clattered into the fence on the last bend for the Storm to take a 7-2.
There was more drama in Heat 13 when the previously unstoppable Ellis was relegated to second place by a superb half-lap by Jacobs, and as the Fen Tigers guest tried to respond he fell heavily on the third bend. In the re-run, Mildenhall skipper Daniel Halsey touched the tapes, which should have given the Storm a 5-1 – only for Sarjeant’s clutch to give up and leave the race as a 3-2.
Bates won Heat 14 to secure the win on the night before he crashed again in Heat 15 leaving Branford and Jacobs clear to secure a 5-1 to reduce the margin to just two points.
Storm co-boss Laurence Rogers said: “I think every rider had a bit of bad luck on the night, and then in Heat 13 we had a great chance of a 5-1 and Sarj’s clutch went.
“It was one of those nights, to pull it back to only lose by two points was amazing and I think we’ll go to Mildenhall with confidence that we could still cause a surprise there.
“It’s a big learning curve for our riders, Tommy (Fenwick) on his first match here and it’s been a hard week for Martin (Knuckey) after the loss of his grandfather, and we did lose some points but all credit to the boys for pulling back.”
COVENTRY 45: Robert Branford 14, Joe Jacobs 11+1, James Sarjeant 7, Brendan Johnson 4+1, Martin Knuckey 3+1, Tommy Fenwick 3, Richard Franklin 3.
MILDENHALL 47: Adam Ellis 12, Josh Bates 10+1, Daniel Halsey 10, Aaron Baseby 7+2, Liam Rumsey 7+2, Nathan Stoneman 1+1, Jon Armstrong r/r.
COVENTRY 45 Joe Jacobs F 3 3 3 2* = 11+1 Richard Franklin 1 0 2 X = 3 Robert Branford 0 2 3 6^ 3 = 14 Brendan Johnson 1 1* 0 2 = 4+1 James Sarjeant 3 2 2 R = 7 Tommy Fenwick 3 0 F 0 = 3 Martin Knuckey 1 X 1* 1 = 3+1
MILDENHALL 47 Adam Ellis 3 3 3 3 X = 12 Aaron Baseby 2* 0 3 1* 1 = 7+2 Josh Bates 2* 3 2 F 3 X = 10+1 Jon Armstrong Rider Replacement Daniel Halsey 2 2 1 2 2 1 = 10 Liam Rumsey 2 1* 1* 2 1 = 7+2 Nathan Stoneman X 1* X = 1+1