28 June 2022
TICKETS ARE LIVE! Tickets for this Saturday’s National League KO Cup first…
Grant Henderson Tankers Berwick Bullets 48
Mildenhall Manchetts Rescue and Recovery Tigers 42
Skipper Kyle Bickley put a difficult week behind him to mastermind the National Development League leaders’ victory over defending champions Mildenhall.
Bickley, replaced in Berwick’s Championship side on Monday by a combination of Dane Jonas Knudsen and Nathan Stoneman, dropped just one point and crucially twice got the better of visiting number one Jason Edwards, including in the vital heat 15 which rubber-stamped victory.
The 20-year-old young Cumbrian had been unveiled as Newcastle’s new Championship reserve on Friday and celebrated with four race wins as the Bullets moved nine points clear of Leicester at the top of the table.
But the match-winner was reserve Ben Rathbone who produced two huge race wins – in heat eight and, decisively, heat 14 when he and Greg Blair combined to put the Bullets four points clear going into the nominated riders’ race.
Blair was typically entertaining, producing a round the boards pass to pip the impressive Jack Kingston and also rounding Edwards – who came into the meeting in red-hot form both for Redcar and as a Championship guest, most notably for Leicester – after an even break in heat five.
Sam Bebee, guest Danny Phillips and Alex Spooner, on his 22nd birthday, were always in the thick of the action for the Tigers who twice pulled back six point deficits and may have fancied their chances going into the closing stages only for Rathbone to rocket from the start of heat 14, Blair rounding Spooner to produce the 5-1 which settled matters.
Bickley roared from the outside gate in heat 15 and clamped Edwards to the kerb on the first bend to end any hopes of a Tigers’ comeback, Blair relegating Kingston to the back to secure a six point victory.
No-one would begrudge the battling Tigers a consolation point and both sides look a good bet to at the very least qualify for the play-offs.
Bickley set out his stall by streaking clear of Edwards in heat one, the race awarded after Bebee seemed to send Mason Watson sprawling but referee Graeme Hunter excluded the Berwick man.
Another lightening start, this time by Kieran Douglas, settled heat two but Rathbone began what would turn into his best night yet in Berwick colours by stalking Josh Warren and passing the Tiger on the run-in to the line.
Ace Pijper suffered the latest in a string of tapes’ exclusions and could not get back to terms from 15 metres back but Blair had the crowd on its feet with a typically extravagant outside pass on Spooner, Crang and Rathbone opening up a six-point lead with a 4-2 in heat four.
That lead was extended to eight when Warren’s heat six fall gifted Watson a point: Bickley again long gone into the distance.
The impressive pairing of Kingston and Spooner clawed four points back in heat seven but three heats later were on the wrong end of another Bickley/Watson 4-2 which again opened up a six point gap.
Crang and Douglas were then on the wrong end of a 5-1 from Edwards and Bebee in heat 11 and with Pijper only managing to split the Kingston and Warren in 12 the scores were level.
And stayed that way until team manager Gary Flint swapped his reserves in the penultimate heat and was rewarded when Rathbone hit the front. Behind him Blair powered up the inside of Spooner only to almost undo his good work as he took too much speed into the fourth bend and came close to clouting the fence only to recover and lead the celebrations.
Bullets’ team manager Gary Flint was full of praise for both teams.
“Mildenhall deserved their point. They were very impressive and are not going to be far away when it comes to deciding the silverware.
“Nor will the Bullets and the high quality of their opponents makes the performance even better.
“One or two riders maybe didn’t get the big scores they have racked up in previous meetings but every one of the seven contributed and in a meeting as close as this that is the difference between victory and defeat.
“Kyle led superbly from the front. Not many people have beaten Jason Edwards twice in a meeting at any level in 2022 but, with all due respect to his monumental effort, Ben Rathbone’s heat wins in eight and 14 were the deciding factor on the night and he played a big part in the fact that our reserves scored 12 points while the Tigers managed just three”
The Bullets are in action again on Friday night when they look to do the double over Belle Vue, having beaten the Manchester side 55-35 at Shielfield Park in May.
Bullets: Kyle Bickley 14, Mason Watson 2, Ace Pijper 4, Greg Blair 10+2, Luke Crang 6+1, Kieran Douglas 3, Ben Rathbone 9+1
Tigers: Jason Edwards 12, Sam Bebee 6+3, Jack Kingston 8+2, Alex Spooner 6+1, Danny Phillips 7, Josh Warren 2, Luke Muff 1+1