Tigers tamed in semi-final first leg
PUBLISHED: 09:48 25 September 2006 | UPDATED: 09:55 24 May 2010
THE Sheffield Tigers will be grateful to Ricky Ashworth and the tactical rule, as without them the Somerset Mike Manning Audio Rebels could have put this Premier League Knockout Cup semi-final tie beyond doubt ahead of the return
SOMERSET 55 SHEFFIELD 40THE Sheffield Tigers will be grateful to Ricky Ashworth and the tactical rule, as without them the Somerset Mike Manning Audio Rebels could have put this Premier League Knockout Cup semi-final tie beyond doubt ahead of the return leg later this month. Against a team that has been their nemesis throughout their relatively short history, the Rebels showed they were in no mood to dwell on past results as they tore into a Tigers outfit that was a pale shadow of the team that came and won at the Oak Tree Arena earlier in the season.By Heat 10 Somerset had built up a healthy 24-point lead with Ashworth the only visitor to cause any problems for the home riders, by beating home favourite Magnus Zetterstrom in the opening heat, following that up with a further win in Heat 5.Ashworth apart, Sheffield had no answer to the sheer onslaught handed out by the Rebels in the early stages, and although the Tigers could point to mechanical misfortunes to both Wilson and Lemon, the latter while on a tactical ride, the Rebels also suffered from mechanical gremlins at a crucial time in the match.Sheffield did not claim a heat advantage until Heat 11, but what an advantage that turned out to be as Ashworth and Wilson combined for an 8-1 over a far from fit Cunningham and Simon Walker, and although the balance was restored in the following heat as Somerset chalked up their fifth maximum heat win of the night, any hopes of a 20-plus lead to take back to Owlerton were dealt a blow when Ben Wilson came off a 15-metre tactical ride to join his partner Sanchez at the front for a 7-1, cutting the Rebels lead to 15 points.Overall, the Rebels were far stronger than their opponents, Ashworth excepted, in every department. Ben Barker had another excellent night at reserve, scoring a paid 13 which included a comprehensive defeat of Lemon in Heat 4. Sheffield must, however, be pleased with the fact they will be going into the second leg of this tie with just 15 points to make up when at the two-thirds stage of the meeting it looked as if it was going to be a lot worse for them, the points scored from their tactical rides in Heats 11 and 14 accounting for over a third of their final night's tally.STOKE EASY RIDER POTTERS 46 SOMERSET REBELS 44(Somerset win aggregate bonus point, 102-80)The Rebels took to the track at Stoke with a severely depleted team, but still came agonisingly close to pulling off a shock victory, taking the home side to a last heat decider before losing by just two points on the night. Denied the services of Stephan Katt and Glen Phillips who were competing in Germany in the world long track championships, the Rebels were further rocked by the news that Loomer Road specialist Glenn Cunningham was not able to ride due to illness.With Glasgow's Lee Dicken already in the line-up as replacement for Phillips, Somerset team manager Mick Bell secured the services of Newport's Tony Atkin at the 11th hour to ride in place of Katt, the team then operating the rider replacement rule cover for the absent Cunningham.On what looked a poorly prepared track, the opening heat had to be re-run with Stoke's Trent Leverington coming to grief on the first bend, this with Zetterstrom already establishing a big lead over Paul Thorp. In the re-run, with Leverington excluded, the inevitable happened as Thorp got the better of Zorro to take the race win, but at least the Rebels had a share of the points. Similar fate befell Somerset in the second heat as Stoke's Shane Waldron fell, causing the race to be stopped, this time with Somerset's Simon Walker holding the advantage at the front of the field. Again, in the re-run, Stoke's sole representative Barrie Evans took to the front to record the heat victory.After six heats, Somerset had managed to successfully keep things tight, and the Potters only held a two-point advantage, but this was suddenly increased to six as ex-Rebel Mark Lemon, partnered by Evans, scored a maximum 5-1 heat win, a lead that was further increased by two points in Heat 10 as Thorp exacted revenge for his Heat 6 defeat by Emil Kramer and Leverington picked up the point for third place.It was now the Rebel fightback began, Zetterstrom easily accounted for Lemon in Heat 11, and with Ben Barker riding a great race to hold off Evans for third place, Somerset were not getting back in the hunt. There then came a race that will live long in the memories of the large contingent of Somerset fans that made the trip up to Stoke as their two reserves, Ben Barker and Simon Walker rode what can only be described as a race of great maturity beyond their years to shut out the vastly more experienced Paul Clews to take a 5-1 maximum heat win and bring the Rebels back to within two points of the home side.Two further drawn heats followed which left the match delicately poised with just those two points separating the teams with the final heat remaining. As the tapes rose, things looked bleak for the Rebels as Thorp and Lemon headed Zetterstrom and Kramer round the first turn. Riding side by side, the Stoke duo must have thought that they had Zetterstrom locked up back in third place, but they underestimated Somerset's Super Swede as Zorro sliced between the Stoke pair to take the lead and race on to his fifth heat victory of the evening from his six rides. Unfortunately, Emil Kramer could not replicate Zetterstrom's exploits in getting past the Stoke pairing, and so it was that Stoke just held out to win on the night against a gallant Somerset performance,.The Rebel fans and team alike still left the Potteries with a smile on their face as by winning the aggregate bonus point on offer it confirmed the Rebels best ever Premier League finish of fifth place and a place in the end of season championship play-offs to look forward to.