OXFORD CHARGERS led for most of the meeting at Leicester’s Paul Chapman & Sons Arena last night (Saturday), but came away with no National League points to show for their efforts, after Leicester Lion Cubs pulled away at the very end to win 51-39.
Chargers were hit by the pre-meeting blow that 17-year-old Luke Killeen suffered a leg injury, just above the ankle, in a crash at Redcar on Friday night. All should become clearer in the next couple of days to the full extent of the injury.
In the absence of Killeen, Chargers brought in 15-year-old Jody Scott in at No 7 at Leicester and he proved a fine replacement, scoring 7+2 for the visitors.
The meeting got off to a dramatic start in Heat 1. Jacob Clouting was excluded for nudging the tapes and replaced by Arran Butcher. Skipper Jordan Jenkins and Butcher both made the start, but Dan Thompson dived outside of Butcher on the third bend. As Butcher moved back inside Thompson on the fourth bend, Thompson clipped the back of Butcher’s bike. Thompson came down, while Mickie Simpson could not avoid his fallen team-mate and also hit the deck.
Both Leicester riders were soon on their feet, while Butcher was excluded, although it was debatable as to whether it was him or Thompson to blame for the incident.
In the re-run, Thompson hit the front, but Jenkins passed him in fine style after a switch of lines on the back straight of lap two. It was the only ride that Thompson took, before pulling out of the meeting due to the effects of his fall.
It also set the tone of the early part of the meeting, in which Leicester were faster from the tapes, while Chargers picked off their opponents from behind.
Scott got the better of both Max Perry and Vinnie Foord on the second bend of Heat 2, to join Butcher for a 5-1 that moved Chargers for a four-point lead that lasted until Heat 8.
Both Chargers’ debutant Henry Atkins and Sam Hagon passed Tom Spencer in the early stages of Heat 3 for a share of the spoils, to follow home Connor Coles. Joe Thompson, the twin brother of Dan Thompson, won Heat 4, but Chargers’ guest Jake Mulford and Scott came through to take second and third.
Jenkins roared around Coles on the around opening bends to win a shared Heat 5, while injury rider replacement for Dan Thompson came into operation for Lion Cubs and it allowed them to give the in-form Joe Thompson and Coles extra rides.
Joe Thompson came into Heat 6, and led all the way ahead of Butcher, while Mulford won a battle for Simpson for third place. After a shared Heat 7, Perry passed the plucky Scott to win Heat 8, as Lion Cubs took their first heat advantage of the night with a 4-2.
Lion Cubs then levelled the scores with a 4-2 in Heat 10, in which Hagon, struggling to find traction on an increasingly slick surface, fell and remounted in fourth place.
In the battle of the two unbeaten riders, Joe Thompson saw off Jenkins early on in Heat 11, as Lion Cubs took the lead for the first time at 34-32.
There was an extended interval after that race, due to the setting sun potentially blinding the riders as they entered the third bend. It was arguably the final nail in the coffin for Chargers, as the resulting slickness of the track in the final stages of the meeting did not suit them at all.
In Heat 12, Butcher held second, but was passed by Perry, and then Butcher fell and was excluded, with Coles and Perry taking a 5-1 in the re-run to move Lion Cubs six points clear.
Heat 13 saw two battles in one. Thompson raced around Jenkins after a couple of laps to take the lead, while Mulford moved around Perry at around the same time to move into third. Jenkins then briefly moved back inside Thompson, but Thompson had the better line to re-took the lead and won the race, which ended as a 3-3.
Atkins was fastest from the tapes in Heat 14, but it was close on the first turn, and Perry nudged Atkins, with the result that both Perry and Spender fell. All four went back into the re-run, and it was the Leicester pair who made the start at the second time of asking. Spencer came under attack on both sides and Scott produced a fine overtake on the outside on the second bend of lap two. Atkins continued to attack Spencer on the inside to no avail, while Lion Cubs won the meeting with a 4-2.
Chargers needed a heat advantage from Heat 15 to collect a consolation point, for an away loss by less than seven points. Scott was placed into the race on merit, alongside Jenkins. Thompson and Coles were fastest away and fought off Scott on the opening lap. Jenkins came into third, and started to challenge Coles, but the Lion Cubs held on for a 5-1.
For Leicester, it was largely a three-man effort, with Joe Thompson scoring a full 18-point-maximum, and Coles (16+1) dropping just a point, while 15-year-old Perry came alive in the second half of the meeting to score 9+1. That trio won 12 races, including every race from Heat 6 onwards.
Jenkins top scored for Chargers with 11 points, while the impressive Scott was next best on 7+2.
Joint team manager Jason Crump said: “It did drift away from us in the last races. A few of the boys weren’t comfortable with the track conditions.
“We missed out on heat winners. I did think, in the middle part of the meeting, there were a lot of 3-3 races where maybe we could have taken a 4-2 from some of them and that could have made the difference.
“It was a bit disappointing, because we were in the lead for most of the night, but it then eked slowly away from us, which was frustrating. It’s the nature of this league that you win some and lose some, because the boys are learning all the time.
“There’s certainly some positives to take. Jody and Arran scored some good points from reserve and showed they’ve got something about them.
“It’s frustrating that we’ve lost Luke Killeen, just as he was starting to get going. We’re not fully sure of the full extent of his injury as yet, but we wish him a speedy recovery.
“We’ll re-group for the next Chargers meeting and come back stronger next time.”
Despite the defeat, Chargers remain in third place in the National League table.
The next action at Oxford is on Wednesday (July 13), when Oxford Cheetahs host Berwick Bandits in Championship action. Accompanied children under 16 go free, as part of a continuing promotion by the club. Tickets are only available online and can be purchased from: https://oxfordspeedway.club/tickets/
Leicester Lion Cubs: 51: Dan Thompson 2, Mickie Simpson 3+1, Connor Coles 16+1, Tom Spencer 2+1, Joe Thompson 18, Vinnie Foord 1, Max Perry 9+1.
Oxford Chargers 39: Jordan Jenkins 11, Jacob Clouting 0, Sam Hagon 4+1, Henry Atkins 5+1, Jake Mulford 6+2, Arran Butcher 6+1, Jody Scott 7+2.