Rebels hopeful of semi-final place
SPEEDWAY - DESPITE going into this Young Shield tie against Stoke without the services of injured Emil Kramer and Nick Simmons, the Somerset Sharp Rebels came away with a nine point deficit.
SPEEDWAY - DESPITE going into this Young Shield tie against Stoke without the services of injured Emil Kramer and Nick Simmons, who was competing in the National League Riders' Championship, the Somerset Sharp Rebels came away from Loomer Road with just a nine-point deficit to make up in Friday's second leg at the Oak Tree Arena.
The fact that Somerset kept in contention with the Potters was due in no small part to the excellent performances of skipper Steve Johnston and Cory Gathercole who scored 32 of the Rebels 43 points between them, with Justin Sedgmen providing good support, weighing in as he did with nine points from his full quota of seven rides.
Johnston was only headed home once by an opposition rider, that coming in Heat 13 when Stoke's Bunyan snatched second place away from him, but other than that, Johnston was in supreme form, his equalling of the Stoke track record in the opening heat being a sign of things to come.
After two shared heats to open the meeting, Stoke drew first blood with a maximum heat advantage in Heat 3, but the Rebels hit back to cut the four-point deficit in half when Gathercole took the first of his race wins, Rebels guest Mark Baseby picking up the odd point for third place.
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With Johnston winning Heat 5, it meant that Somerset had provided four of the first five race winners of the night, and it looked as if that tally would be become five out of six when Gathercole hit the front in Heat 6, only to fall on the apex of the first turn, bringing down Stoke's Jason Bunyan in the process.
With Gathercole excluded from the re-run, it was left to Justin Sedgmen to hold on to a fine second place to restrict the home side's advantage, though the 4-2 heat win to the Potters restored their four-point lead.
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Johnston continued his winning ways by taking the chequered flag in Heat 7, this after having to come from third place on the opening lap to pass the Stoke duo of Robert Ksiezak and Craig Branney, but just two heats later Somerset suddenly found themselves 12 points down as Stoke hit in consecutive 5-1s to take the score to 33-21 in their favour with six heats remaining.
Gathercole steadied the Somerset ship in Heat 10 with a second place finish while on a double point tactical ride, which kept Stoke 12 points to the good, allowing Somerset a second chance of a tactical ride, which saw the hitherto unbeaten Johnston come to the tapes in the black and white helmet colour.
The move almost worked to perfection as Johnston took the lead from the tapes with Sedgmen behind him in second place. Eventually Stoke's Jesper Kristiansen found a way past Sedgmen, but the resultant 7-2 heat win brought the Rebels back to within seven points of their hosts.
Stoke hit back with their fourth maximum heat win of the match in Heat 12 to stretch their lead back out to 11 points, but a Gathercole/Johnston 4-2 in Heat 13 brought the Somerset arrears back to single figures again.
A further maximum race win to Stoke in the penultimate heat took them into a 13-point lead, which would have become a more than handy 17-point first leg advantage should they repeat the feat in the 15th and final heat.
Any hopes the Potters had though were quickly extinguished as Gathercole and Johnston showed their undoubted class by speeding from the tapes to establish an unassailable lead over Stokes' Complin and Bunyan for a 5-1 heat win to leave the tie nicely poised ahead of the second leg, which the Rebels will need to win by 10 points or more in order to book their place in the Young Shield semi-final draw.
SHEFFIELD'S Ricky Ashworth was a deserving winner of Sunday's prestigious Premier League Riders' Championship, leading from start to finish in the 'winner takes all' final ahead of King's Lynn's Darcy Ward with Ty Proctor (Redcar) in third place and David Howe (Scunthorpe) fourth.
The meeting was a disappointment for Somerset's Steve Johnston who ended the meeting in 11th place on six points, two last places in his second and third rides when coming off what were at that time the two worst gate positions, ending any hopes that Johno had of making at least the semi-final stage of the competition.
After an encouraging second place behind Newcastle's Kenni Larsen in his opening ride, Johnston finished off the meeting with two further second places in his final two rides, but it was too little too late for him as it took a score of 10 points to ensure qualification for the semi-final round.
Final Positions: Ricky Ashworth (Sheffield); Darcy Ward (King's Lynn);Ty Proctor (Redcar); David Howe (Scunthorpe).
The Rebels require victory by at least 10 points when Stoke visit the Oak Tree Arena this Friday in the second leg of their Young Shield quarter-final tie in order to progress through to the semi-finals of the competition.
Despite being without both Emil Kramer and Nick Simmons for last Saturday's first leg encounter at Stoke's Loomer Road circuit, the Rebels fought an heroic rear-guard action to come away from Staffordshire just nine points in arrears.