Leicester Lions 46 Sheffield Tigers 46
TIGERS played their part in a hugely successful opening night at Leicester in front of a bumper crowd on Saturday.
The Owlerton men were held to a draw after holding a comfortable lead but there were few complaints as the sport’s newest venue enjoyed a successful launch.
Tigers promoters Neil Machin and David Hoggart have been fully supportive of the ambitious plans to bring speedway back to the East Midlands venue after a 28-year absence, and they act as ‘mentors’ to new Lions boss David Hemsley.
But their assistance over the last year didn’t extend to offering any favours on the circuit, as Tigers gave the capacity 4,500 crowd a dose of Premier League reality in the first two races by scorching to 5-1s.
The margin of Hugh Skidmore and Shane Parker’s victory over Sergey Darkin in Heat 1 looked ominous for the Lions, and first-night problems saw Jan Graversen plough through the tapes in Heat 2, and Russian rider Ilya Bondarenko fail to beat the time allowance in the next race.
But then Leicester began winning races and Tigers asset Richard Hall, on loan to the Lions, was to the fore with smooth victories in both Heats 3 and 5.
The visitors could have further extended their lead in Heat 8 when Skidmore and Ashley Birks gated on a 5-1, but Birks fell going into the second lap when under pressure from Graversen.
Hall produced a trademark double-overtake of Simon Lambert and Josh Auty around a fast-developing outside line in Heat 9, but Auty wasn’t to be outdone and found a way through on the inside two laps later.
With Leicester ten points down, the Lions’ No 1, Darkin, was handed a tactical ride in Heat 10, but he was limited to four points by Tigers skipper Ricky Ashworth’s second win of the meeting as the visitors maintained their lead.
Sheffield led 42-32 with three races to go, but Leicester recorded an extraordinary 5-1 in Heat 13 when Richard Sweetman clipped the fence coming off turn four and somehow maintained control of his machine to partner Darkin to maximum points.
Suddenly it was the Lions who were making fast starts, and the hitherto out-of-touch Jamie Courtney took a shock win from Heat 14 with Emiliano Sanchez preventing another 5-1 with a move inside Hall on the run to the finishing line.
That left Leicester needing a 5-1 from the last race to snatch a draw, and their prospects looked encouraging with Darkin and Sweetman nominated against Skidmore and Auty. The Lions stormed from the gate to send the crowd into raptures
- SHEFFIELD: Hugh Skidmore 9+1, Josh Auty 9, Ricky Ashworth 8+2, Simon Lambert 6+2, Emiliano Sanchez 6, Shane Parker 4+1, Ashley Birks 4+1.