MATCH REPORT: Stars at the double over Cyclones and Revolutions
For the second week running it was Scottish opposition for the Sheffield Stars. This time it was Fife and Glasgow who descended on Cookson Park for North & Scotland League Two fixtures.
A bright sunny day welcomed the visitors, but they would both return North empty handed, as Sheffield moved up to fourth in the table after two enthralling matches.
Glasgow were looking for a second victory in Yorkshire, they won at Hull earlier in the season, the Cyclones arriving with a full strength team. Sheffield were also at full strength, and gave a debut to Steven Webber.
Glasgow provided the race winner in three of the opening four heats, through Joe Beuckman, Andy Macdougall and Bartosz Lanieki, which were all 5-5 drawn heats. The sequence ended in heat 5, with Sheffield moving into the lead following a 6-4 result from Sam Haines/Niamh Morton.
The next three races were again all drawn 5-5 results, heat 6 only due to the persistence of Stars debutante, Steven Webber, who managed to squeeze past Lachlan Macdougall on the last corner of the last lap. Another Stars 6-4 came in heat 9, courtesy of a tapes to flag win from reserve Sammi Marsh and another last bend pass from Steven over Lachlan (this time around the outside).
Sheffield now led by 47-43. Four more drawn heats, with Andy and Bartosz adding to their tally of race wins, meant there was still the four-point difference with just two heats remaining.
The Cyclones then blew strong in heat 14, Andy and Lachlan McDougal with a brilliant 7-3 maximum over Kielan Burton/Laura Watson to level the scores at 70-70. Glasgow had the unbeaten Bartosz lining up from grid 2 in the last race and now fancied going home with a least a point.
Luke Morton, not for the first time this season, pulled out a tremendous gate from grid 1. Drifting Bartosz on the first bend, which allowed Sam Haines through. Sam sprinted away to claim the win (his third of the match) from an ever closing Bartosz, who had passed Luke at the start of lap 2. With Luke in third place, the 6-4 heat win gave Sheffield victory by 76-74 in a great match fought out by two evenly matched teams.
Luke Morton 15+1, Steven Webber 6+1, Sam Haines 17+1, Kielan Burton 8+1,Niamh Morton 12, Laura Watson 9+1, Sammi Marsh 9+1.
Colin Gray 8+1, Andy McDougal 16+2, Joe Beuckman 14, Jim Alexander 9+2, Bartosz Laniecki 19, Lachlan McDougal 8.
Referee – DAVE SHOAT
It was the young Fife Revolutions up next for Sheffield, the visitors having their first match of the day before travelling over the Pennines to face defending League Two Champions the Bury Comets.
Fife were without their number one, Craig Hardie. Sheffield gave their second debut of the day, to Nigel Howard (who last raced for the Stars in 2000 as a 13 year old). What a stunning debut it was. Nigel quickly established himself as a crowd favourite, winning four of his five races, as Sheffield picked up a second win, by 76-72.
Sheffield opened with a 7-3 maximum in heat one. Nigel blasting round the first turn from grid 4 (very much reminiscent of Jono Birks, a former team-mate) to join Luke Morton who had made a good start from grid 2.
The Fife riders were impressively quick, the Cookson track holding no fears as it was the template to which their own ‘Fastbowl’ was fashioned. James Keenlyside and John Hutton powering to wins in heats 2 and 3.
Heat 4 then served up how the remainder of the meeting would unfold, Nigel again involved in a spectacular overtake. He found himself in last place on the exit of the first corner, Laura Watson trying to control the race up front. Entering the third corner Nigel charged up the inside and led coming out of turn 4, Laura unfortunately engulfed by the other three riders came out of the turn in last place.
Nigel’s former Stars manager Pat Cain (on announcing duties) remarked that it was like watching the Jono Birks of old. Fife’s first race advantage came with a 6-4 from Jake Ferguson/Harry Langdale in heat 5.
The Stars hit straight back with the second 7-3 of the match from the potent Luke/Nigel pairing, Nigel again thrilling the crowd with a charging first corner (none of this looking for the man on grid 4 for the debutant). Fife’s Jake and James were both showing a distinct liking for Cookson, storming to race wins in heats 7 and 8.
The teams going into the interval with Sheffield leading by 43-37. Nigel got his, and the Stars, fourth race win in heat 9, coming through from third place after being squeezed for room on turn 1. Sheffield increased their lead to eight points with Luke winning heat 10, Kielan Burton filling third place after John Hutton slid off on the first corner.
Heat 12 brought the first exclusion of the day. Fife were in a 7-3 position from John and Lewis Alsop. On the exit of turn two on the third lap, both Fife riders got out of shape as they picked up that fraction too early. John, who was leading, managed to regain control. Lewis on the other hand swerved violently and straight into the path of the chasing Laura. Lewis was quickly on the scene to check on Laura’s well-being, but then unfortunately had to remain in the pits for the re-run.
John won the re-run, with a brilliant pass on the outside of the first corner, to limit the deficit to a 4-5 heat result. Luke was then back in the pits for movement at the tapes in heat 13. This left Nigel on his own on grid 4. James was quickly away from grid 1, with for once Nigel a little unsure of whether to attack or not. This left him well behind on the back straight and he locked up violently on turn three as he tried too hard to get back in front.
Fife sat on a 7-2, but Nigel recovered to get back into second place, with James getting revenge for the two defeats that Nigel had inflicted in earlier races. Niamh Morton raced to victory in heat 14, putting the match out of reach for Fife.
The final race saw the Fife pairing of Jake and John race to an impressive 7-3 maximum over Sheffield’s reserve pairing of Kielan and Steven Webber.
The star of the match had undoubtable been Nigel Howard, a glimmer of a bright future for the Stars after two to three years of losing riders. The Fife team also have a great future ahead of them.
Jake Ferguson, James Keenlyside and John Hutton all won three races each, Jake was actually unbeaten after finishing last in his first race. The whole team though race for the full four laps and are always looking to be on the attack, which is a breath of fresh air for the sport. This reporter will look forward to their visit to Cookson in 2018.
Luke Morton 10+2, Nigel Howard 19, Sam Haines 10+2, Niamh Morton 13+1, Sammi Marsh 9+1, Laura Watson 10+2, Kielan Burton 4, Steven Webber 1.
Jake Ferguson 16+1, Vas Hill 9+1, Harry Langdale 9, James Keenlyside 17+1, John Hutton 15, Lewis Alsop 6, Andrew Keenlyside DNR.
Referee – NIALL MORTON
Report by Rob Mawhood. Photo by Fife Cycle Speedway.