DRAWS FOR FOUR
Vipers end eight year title wait
Don Valleyhave become the first club to win four league titles, the Vipers making history after one of the most dramatic championship races ever concluded with draws for both the top two. Rivals Ramsgate had won 52 straight in the top flight at the Channel Arena prior to the last day visit there of Sankey, unbelievably though this is were that record run would end, the Rams letting a ten point lead slip through their fingers and with it their hopes of a third successive championship win. Don Valley had become the first club to win all 18 home meetings in a league campaign and NOT take the title in SL16, in beating Ramsgate 47-43 in the penultimate round of fixtures—a meeting in which the Vipers recovered from four down to take the win with heat advantages in the last three— they made it 18 from 18 again, but needed something at Altrincham on the final day to be sure of not enduring the same fate in SL17. The Panthers kept them honest that is for sure, 5-1’s in heats two and three for the home side leaving the Vipers playing catch-up, but that’s a situation they’re use to and one Iain Johnson (16+1) and Liam Marlow (14+1) usually rectify, and once more they did just that, between them they dropped just one point from their 11 outings to the track, with 5-1’s from the pair in heats 13 and 15 earning Matt Akers side their 19th away league point of the campaign, and the SL17 league title whatever Ramsgate did. Both Ramsgate and third placed Southampton—who finished the season with a 44-46 win at Swindon—end the year with 68 points, a tally no team has scored before and not won the title.
A magical four heat spell earned Southampton the SL17 KO Cup and denied Don Valley a record extending ninth victory in the competition. Trailing by 11 from the first leg the Scorpions were struggling to get themselves in contention in their home return, Iain Johnson (13) wins in heats five, eight and 11 keeping the Vipers in control of the final. If one team have the firepower to match Johnson and Liam Marlow (8) it is Southampton, especially at Michigan Park, where they’d hadn’t been beaten in 29. They would make it 30 and in dramatic fashion, Paul Adams (12+2) and Craig Rowntree (13) following up a George Farley (12+2)/Shane Reid (7+3) 5-1 in heat 12 with maximum points against the Vipers top two in heat 13, victory on the night a certainly, now for the aggregate success. Having beaten one eight point man in Valerie Lach in heat 12, Reid returned to the track in heat 14 to beat another, Zarek Jablonksi left for dead at the start by the 20 year old reserve, who joined Vladimir Anyukov (9) at the front, there would be no last heat rescue by Johnson and Marlow this time around, for Southampton’s third straight 5-1 had got this in the bag. Rowntree and Adams deservedly finished the night off with more maximum points in the last, John Shuttler’s side the KO Cup winners by nine after going over two years without a trophy.
Cradley Heath were the first to secure their promotion from division two in the closely contested race, a 52-37 home win over Jericho—in which Espen Bertnsen (15) scored his third maximum of the season—securing Stuart Mills side top flight racing for the first time in their 16 years in the sport. Overall the penultimate round of results saw the number of promotion contenders fall from seven to just four teams, with Laceby, St Peters and Merseyside left fighting for the remaining two spots. Of the three only Laceby had home advantage on the final day and it was St Peters who made the daunting trip to New Station Road, where the Avenues had won their previous 21 league fixtures. It was soon obvious that 21 would become 22, three 5-1’s taking the hosts to a 14 point lead by the end of heat six, victory and promotion assured Martin Smith’s side by the end of heat 12. St Peters though had Jericho fighting for them, the Jack Russells storming to a 22 point win over Merseyside, a result which denied the Marauders the bonus point they needed to grab third spot in the standings from the Scions, it would be Terry Meech’s side going up, a second successive promotion for them in their two year history.
As expected Stepps and Sittingbourne earned the final two promotion places in division three, the latter doing so despite suffering a 44-46 final day home defeat to third tier champions California. Manor’s hopes of a top three finish may have come to an end with a home draw against Stepps, however it is the demise of the Slickers that means Manor will race in division two next season, the Miracles promoted from fourth spot.
Vyacheslav Kuznetsov (10) was left inconsolable after a third placed finish in heat 18 of this years final GP in Warsaw handed Don Valley’s Iain Johnson (11) the World Championship title, the pressure told on the Russian who needed a second place or better in the race to retake the championship lead, Kuznetsov having already been beaten by Johnson when the two met in heat two of the deciding meeting. Johnson trailed in last in his remaining ride, the race won by Craig Rowntree (12) who as a result claimed his maiden GP win, in fact it was the first WSO success for the 25 year old since his SL10 BU19 final victory. The result would no doubt have been different if the emotional Johnson needed the points, he didn’t, and he could use the four laps to celebrate a deserve first world crown.