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Magnificent Mildenhall Fen Tigers completed a National League championshipand cup double on a night of high drama against Dudley Heathens at a rain-soaked Norfolk Arena. Like last season, the title went down to a final heat decider, but unlike last season, it was Mildenhall who came out on top in the Grand Final by the slimmest of margins as it finished 54-39 on the night - 91-90 on aggregate.
The Fen Tigers sprang a surprise before the meeting even started with injured skipper Lewis Blackbird declaring himself fit and riding through the pain barrier with a broken collarbone, as he went on to to play a vital part in his side's triumph.
The opening heats were shared as both sets of riders tried to get used to the tricky conditions. It was Mildenhall who got the breakthrough in Heat 4 through Stefan Nielsen and Josh Bates. After another shared heat, Fen Tigers Jason Garrity and Blackbird claimed a 4-2 as they patiently chipped away at Dudley's 14 point first leg lead. But the Heathens struck back immediately as Ashley Morris and Darryl Ritchings got a 4-2 of their own.
Then suddenly with track conditions improving all the time, the Fen Tigers took a firm grip on proceedings reeling off three 5-1 maximums in a row to go into an overall lead of two points.
As Mildenhall started to believe the league title was in their grasp, fate dictated there was still to be another twist as Stefan Nielsen ground to a halt while comfortably leading Dudley star Adam Roynon. With Roynon on a double points tactical ride, the Midlands outfit claimed an 8-1 heat win and suddenly it seemed as if the Fen Tigers title dreams might be shattered for a second year.
But not a bit of it. They regrouped, dug deep and made that final push, clawing back the deficit again, leaving the whole season depending on the final race.
And there was still more drama to come. Dudley pair Roynon and Morris got out of the gate first and as Nielsen tried to split them, he and Roynon came together in an horrific looking spill on the back straight. Although, thankfully, Nielsen was able to go back to the pits after lengthy treatment, the unlucky Roynon was unable to continue. Then, following a further delay while he looked at the video evidence, the referee decided Roynon was to blame for the crash and excluded him. That left Dudley with just Morris in the rerun and with only three points needed to claim the championship, Jacobs and Nielsen wisely settled for the minor placings and the National League title was on its way to West Row.
Afterwards a jubilant Fen Tigers co-promoter Michael Lee said, "I can't quite believe that we've done this. I am so proud of every one of the team tonight. They all worked so hard as they have done all year and they deserve all the success they've achieved. We also can't thank Buster Chapman enough for letting us use the Norfolk Arena at such short notice, and then working so hard for us to get the meeting on."
Lee finished, "When we restarted Mildenhall two years ago we were determined to give our fantastic supporters a club to be proud of. Tonight we've done just that and it's a season that none of us is ever going to forget."
|Mildenhall Fen Tigers: 54||Dudley Heathens: 39|
|1. J Garrity (G)||1*||3||2*||1||7||2||1. A Roynon||3||3||2||6||-||16||0|
|2. L Blackbird||2||1||3||3||9||0||2. D Greenwood||0||1*||1||2*||2||6||2|
|3. J Jacobs||1||3||2*||3||2||11||2||3. R/R|
|4. D Halsey||2||0||3||3||8||0||4. A Kirby||-||0||1||1||0|
|5. S Nielsen||3||2||0||3||1||9||0||5. A Morris||-||2||3||0||0||3||8||0|
|6. R Terry-Daley||1*||0||1||2||1||6. D Ritchings||3||0||1||1||1||1*||0||7||1|
|7. J Bates||2||2*||2*||0||2*||8||3||7. J White-Williams||0||1||0||1||0|
|Team manager: Robert Henry||Team manager: Will Pottinger|
|03||Roynon R/R||Halsey||Jacobs (15m)||Kirby (f/disq)||3-3||9-9||75.4|
|10||Blackbird||Garrity||Ritchings R/R||Kirby (e/f)||5-1||38-22||72.0|
|11||Roynon TR||Greenwood||Terry-Daley||Nielsen (e/f)||1-8||39-30||70.4|
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