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LATE SPARKS AS STOKE RETAIN TITLE

Wildfire defy nerves to claim vital win

History books will show a comfortable three point advantage for Stoke in the final league standings of SL27, but it was much closer than the figures suggest, the Wildfire could have been relying on points difference alone if not for a heat 15 5-1 in their final day clash with West Ham. Stoke hosted the Dockers looking to extend their unbeaten run in the league to 12, their 11th meeting in that sequence a 38-52 success at the already relegated Bracklesham, a result which cancelled out a 13 point away win for title rivals Newark at Newcastle. West Ham went into the meeting with nothing to ride for, their top flight safety already assured by Brighton’s home defeat to Warrington, 39-51, however that relief seem to energise their seven, who would race into an eight point lead at Lakes Park in the first three races. Stoke had plenty of margin for error, but still this is not what the expectant home fans had come to see, the party would have to wait. Back-to-back 5-1’s for the Wildfire in heats five and six didn’t set them on the path to a mid-meeting lead, West Ham reclaiming the advantage with a 4-2 in heat eight and then a 5-1 in heat 11, Thomas Jaager inflicting Matthew Francis’s first defeat of the contest in the latter. Francis was beaten again in heat 13 and heading into the last Stoke could still not count on any league points, despite having won the reverse fixture at Custom Court by six. If Brian Bell (14) and Bobby Branch (13+1) were nervous coming to the tapes for the championship decider it didn’t show, they couldn’t have made more perfect gates, coming off one and three they rounded the opening bend in front and eased clear, wheelies at the end, a magical 5-1 it seemed the script writers demanded. Newark may have closed the points difference gap significantly with a final day 24 point win over Brighton, it mattered not now, Stoke had the three points that would see them become the first side in seven years to successfully defend the league title.

 

TODAY: Shorts

The KO Cup a competition too far for Stoke, drained from their exploits in fighting for league, Euro and Division One Cup success, the Wildfire succumbed to second leg final defeat to Putney, who would complete a 12 point aggregate victory. The Lakes Park hosts started well enough, in going eight up after heat seven they made themselves favourites. However a double tactical substitution took the fight away from the Wildfire, Jukka Peteri (13+1) and Pavel Vonasek’s (10+1) heat eight maximum beginning the start of a run of eight heat wins to end the meeting for the Spitfires, Daniel Southwood (15+1) claiming three of those successes, including the trophy clincher in heat 13. Putney went on to win the meeting 44-46, the success for Neil Boniface’s side a record equalling fifth in the competition, it also bringing them their second trophy of the season following their 4TT triumph earlier in the month.

 

Nottingham’s three year wait for a top flight return goes on after they missed out on promotion once again despite heading into the final two rounds of racing in the top three. A home defeat to division two champions Dover ultimately cost them, the Silkmen’s 42-48 success at Brune Park the club’s tenth on the road of the season and one which helped them finish the year with a points tally of 73, the second highest ever at this level and the greatest for 11 years in any division of the British League. As the Jazz faltered, Sturminster came to the fore, the Saints simultaneously beating Wirral on the road 44-46, a result which took the early season leaders back into the top three for the first time in five weeks. Trevor Walker’s side claimed the vital away win thanks to a last heat 5-1 from Branislav Misencik (14) and Mark Windsor (14+1), the result leaving all hopes of survival for the Warriors resting on a trip to Dover! The expected defeat materialised, but even a win wouldn’t have saved Wirral from facing life in division three for the first time in 19 years, rivals Reading having comfortably beaten Nottingham at home on the final day. Sturminster completed their immediate return to the top flight with a last day win over Bilston, Stag Hill go up in second following back-to-back wins, which included a 44-46 success at Herne Bay. Andrew Fisher’s Stars make it to the top flight for the first time after four years in division two, they finished fourth in each of the previous two seasons.

 

Cradley spent 16 of the opening 18 weeks in the bottom two of the league standings, however a run of one defeat in seven saw them head into the final day in a season high fourth spot in division three. Unbelievably Graham Weaver’s side would grab second at the death, a 14 point win over Wigginton taking the rookies into the top three for the first time ever as Kent slipped up at home to divisional champions Bedwyn, 44-46. Despite that defeat Kent go up in third, they finishing a point clear of Cranford, who suffered a final day defeat at bottom side Milton Keynes. Cranford however will race in division two next season, Dave Lewis’s side benefiting from the demise of Bedwyn, who will not return in SL28.

 

A mid-season transfer frenzy saw Mark Smith (12) become the most expensive rider in the world at £3,500,000, Peak Dean boss Stuart Smith would argue the 24 year old is worth every penny of that outlay, the England international this week crowned World Champion. His third GP victory of the five round series confirmed Smith as the first home nation champion since Bruce Kelly won his third title in SL19, Smith winning the Krakow meeting following a race-off win over out-going champ, Martin Ata, the GP win his fifth of his career, his first returned on the same track when just 20 years old.

 

Mark Smith top scored with 13 as England beat the USA 53-37 in their International League decider, Oliver Miles’s Lions—who have now won the competition for four years straight—topping this years standings with a 100% record.

 

Back-to-back wins over Dover confirmed Brighton as SL27 Junior League Champions, the title the Sharks eighth in the competition.

 

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