Speedway: Sheffield Tigers close in on play-offs with win over Belle Vue
Sheffield Tigers moved to the very brink of play-off qualification with a hard-fought 49-41 win over Roses rivals Belle Vue at Owlerton.
British Champion Adam Ellis and an outstanding Jack Holder secured victory for the Tru Plant Tigers with a last-heat 5-1 which also ensured the Aces went home point-less.
Mathematically, Tigers require a maximum of two more points to secure a top four finish – but that equation is also based on the unlikely scenario of bottom club King’s Lynn securing maximum points from all four of their remaining away matches.
More realistically, Simon Stead’s side now have a real chance of overhauling Belle Vue and moving into third spot, as Thursday’s result leaves them just three points behind the Aces with three matches in hand.
Tigers had to work for their victory, especially with key reserve Stefan Nielsen sidelined following a crash at Birmingham on Wednesday.
The hosts enjoyed a stroke of fortune when Belle Vue No.1 Dan Bewley ground to a halt when leading Heat 1, allowing Holder and Troy Batchelor through for a 5-1 – but that was immediately cancelled out by the visitors in the next race.
Tigers rebuilt their lead with successive 4-2s, headed up by Josh Pickering in Heat 3 and then by a brilliant victory from Rising Star reserve Danyon Hume over Australian ace Brady Kurtz in Heat 4.
The visitors would not be shaken off, and narrowed the gap to two points when Kurtz inflicted Holder’s only defeat of the night in Heat 6.
Skipper Kyle Howarth responded in Heat 9 with Pickering in third place as Kurtz ran a surprise last place, and the four-point margin was maintained through three successive shared heats with Holder, Ellis and Howarth all winning races for Sheffield.
The big Heat 13 went Tigers’ way with a 4-2 as Holder withstood the strong challenge of Bewley, whilst third place for Ellis extended the gap to six.
Aces boss Mark Lemon responded by throwing Bewley into Heat 14 for a tactical substitute outing, but whilst Charles Wright won the race, Bewley was importantly held back in third place as Pickering split the Aces duo.
That put Sheffield into the decider with a 44-40 lead, and after a re-run was called when Wright was warned for movement at the start, Ellis conjured a super start from gate one with Holder riding a stormer to take Bewley wide and then switch back on Wright to give Tigers a perfect result.
Boss Stead said: “The boys really dug in and that’s exactly what we wanted from them, and exactly what we spoke about prior to the meeting starting.
“We knew it was going to be tough – Belle Vue have got a lot of riders who ride Sheffield extremely well, but they dug deep and it’s a good result against a very good team.
“A special mention to Danyon because he’s really stepped up, he got a crucial race win in the middle of the meeting and he rode his socks offs.
“When you look at the big heats and you’ve got Adam and Jack to throw in there, and there were a couple of others who could have thrown their hat into the ring tonight, it’s nice to have that sort of strength in those tough races.
“But equally, when you look at Belle Vue’s line-up they could have had any number of riders in Heat 13 and 15 who were equally as capable of doing something, so the fact that we dug deep and got the job done was testament to the effort the boys put in.”
Tigers now go into a busy week on the road with the return fixture at Belle Vue on Monday, and they also visit King’s Lynn next Thursday.
SHEFFIELD 49: Jack Holder 14, Adam Ellis 10+1, Kyle Howarth 9, Josh Pickering 7+1, Danyon Hume 5+1, Troy Batchelor 4+1, Nathan Greaves 0.
BELLE VUE 41: Charles Wright 10+1, Tom Brennan 8+1, Dan Bewley 8, Steve Worrall 6+2, Brady Kurtz 5, Simon Lambert 4+1, Jye Etheridge r/r.