ALL GUNS BLAZING
Rifles seal second title
Long Eatonare league champions once again, the Rifles winning their season long battle with SL7 and 8 winners Totton by a clear five points, the rest no where in sight. Belfast had a brief spell in the top two at the mid-point of the year, but other than that the title race has been dominated by Long Eaton and Totton, and for a long period of SL9 it looked as though the silverware would be decided when the pair met for a fourth time in the campaign on the final day of the season. However the story-writers were denied the dramatic conclusion, Long Eaton’s penultimate round home victory over Caversham and a defeat for Totton at Hallamshire deciding the destiny of the silverware prior to the big head-to-head, a happy ending for Long Eaton’s fans at least, who witnessed Adam Lucas lift the British League trophy at the Perksdome following news of the result from up the M1. Totton’s bid to take it to the final day was thwarted by a Hallamshire team who’d lost just two of their previous nine fixtures, and that form showed as they dominated the clash from heat six onwards, a run of four 4-2’s and a 5-1—the latter claimed despite Miksa Mathe appearing as a tactical substitute—taking the Sheffield side into a 12 point lead. The home side’s victory was assured by the end of heat 13, and with Long Eaton cruising to a 53-36 win over Caversham the Tigers dreams of a record third straight title were over. Adam Lucas (14+1) scored his fifth maximum in nine league in the Rifles win and finishes the season with a ten point average for the first time, form which should hold him and his team in good stead going into SL10, when Long Eaton look to defend their title.
A World Championship shocker in Warsaw, where SL4 and 6 runner-up Nyek Timko (13) claimed the SL9 World title on count-back after series leader going into the final round, world number two Erich Lacina (7), suffered a nightmare sequence of results. Winless after four heats the Czech international—champion in SL5, 6 and 7—finished last in heat 17 when up against Timko, who struggled to hide his delight when crossing the finishing line in front, and he earned every bit of the praise. For the 39 year old had made this one himself, he was the one who forced Lacina wide in the first corner, costing himself the lead at the time, he then set about chasing down and passing Cameron Adams to take the crucial heat win. It was not over yet though, Timko had matched Lacina’s 50 point series tally, now he needed to win the meet to become World Champion. Maksa Mathe ensured he’d have to take victory in a run-off to do that by winning heat 19, but there was no stopping the Belfast man now, the 39 year old returning to the track to defeat his long time rival in the round decider, Timko’s first GP victory of SL9 taking him to his first world title.
Totton’s consolation for missing out on a third league title came in the form of the KO Cup, as expected the Tigers completing an aggregate victory over third division newcomers Shetland this week, whose remarkable run in the competition came to an end with a 50-39 defeat at the Testwood. Following a draw at the Scottish outpost last week, it took Totton just three heats to get their noses in front in the final, but still they were taken to the penultimate heat by the Ponies, who had a fair bit of luck it had to be said. A heat 12 retirement for Joseph Howarth handed the visitors a 5-1 and reduced their deficit to three, however successive 4-2’s saw Totton to their first victory in the competition, and their first trophy of the SL9 season.
In the end it was all down to the final bonus point of the campaign, and Caversham lost it, resulting in their relegation from the top flight after two seasons. A 47-43 final day win over Heath not good enough for the Swans, the Spitfires taking the crucial extra point by four on aggregate following a last heat Olcay Fugleberg (15) winning 4-2 in their favour, a 5-1 against and they would have been the ones contemplating second tier racing in SL10.
A closely fought battle for the final two promotion places in division two was eventually won this week by Houston and Stourbridge, who were both relegated from the top flight last season. Wavendon couldn’t take advantage of final day defeats for the pair on the road, they themselves losing at Milton Keynes, 50-40, while Swindon’s challenge had come to an end with a home defeat to second tier champions Sedgley in the penultimate round. Milton Keynes’s win kept them out of trouble at the bottom, Ernsford becoming the third club to be relegated from the division, their first season at this level ending in disappointment after a defeat at Alfreton. Replacing them in division two in SL10 are Solihull, who picked up the final promotion place in division three with a final day 50-40 win over Stoke, the margin of defeat for the Bombers in that meeting handing the third tier title to Buxton.
If rumours of Martin Smith’s departure as England boss are true, then he will go out on a high, the Lions crowned International League champions for the first time following a 39-51 win over Sweden in the final round of fixtures. England topped the final standings by two points from the Czech Republic following the win, in which Julian Harrison (11+2) and Adam Lucas (11) led the scoring, Sweden slipped to third in the table having led the way prior to the final fixtures.
Houston have regained the Junior League title following a double win over Sedgely this week, the Colts—also victorious in SL3, 5 and 6—topped the final standings from Hallamshire.