Monday, July 15, 2024
CheetahsOxford Speedway

REACTION: “The whole team dug deep throughout the 15 races tonight, and we showed character to come away with a two-point lead.”

MONARCH Oxford Cheetahs recorded a dramatic 46-44 victory over the Poole Pirates, after a 5-1 in the final race from dynamic duo Scott Nicholls and Sam Masters, in the first leg of their Knockout Cup semi-final at Oxford Stadium last night (Tuesday).

It means there is all to play for in the second leg at Wimborne Road tonight (Wednesday), with Cheetahs aiming to reach their first Knockout Cup final since 1997.

Last night’s result was the first time that Cheetahs have defeated Pirates – the reigning league and cup champions – in seven attempts since Oxford’s return to professional speedway last year after a 15-year-absence. The previous time that Oxford beat Poole was on July 31, 2006, when Pirates were edged out by 49-47 at Sandy Lane in an Elite League encounter.

In a night of contrasting fortunes, Pirates led 13-11 early on, while Cheetahs were 34-26 ahead at the interval stage. Pirates came on strong with three successive heat advantages and led 43-41 into the final race, but Cheetahs had the men for the challenge in Nicholls and Masters.

Masters made the start off the inside gate, while Nicholls fought past Steve Worrall on the opening bends and the pair pulled away for a 5-1 that brought the house down in front of a rapturous bumper Oxford crowd.

It ended a compelling night of speedway, which had started with a 4-2 from Masters and Cameron Heeps in Heat 1. Ryan Kinsley – in just his second meeting at Championship level for a year – led for the majority of Heat 2, before the experienced Kyle Newman passed him with a lap remaining. Henry Atkins took third, after pushing Adam Roynon in a mistake – who fell.

The Cook brothers took a 5-1 for Pirates in Heat 3. Poole also briefly held a 5-1 in Heat 4, only for a brilliant ride from Oxford skipper Nicholls, who cleared Roynon almost immediately, before tracking down Richard Lawson and roaring around him with a lap to go in exciting fashion, as Nicholls started his evening with a victory.

Jordan Jenkins and Lewis Kerr registered a 5-1 over Worrall in Heat 5, with Kerr team-riding in second place, as Cheetahs re-took the lead at 16-14. The next three races were shared, including Heeps fending off a very fast looking Newman in Heat 8.

Jenkins trapped in Heat 9, while Kerr somehow squeezed between the fence and Lawson down the back straight to move from third to first, as Cheetahs took a 5-1.

Oxford’s lead was extended to eight points in all-Australian Heat 10. Masters led all the way, while Ben Cook passed Heeps on the second lap for second place, with Heeps then fended off Zach Cook at the end of the race, as Cheetahs recorded a 4-2.

In the first race after the interval, Nicholls provided another masterclass, as he zipped inside both Worrall and Anders Rowe on the opening lap to maintain Cheetahs’ lead at 37-29.

Pirates are not the defending champions for nothing and Ben Cook and Newman hit back with a 5-1 in Heat 12. Cheetahs were hoping for a big result from an all-star Heat 13, but Worrall trapped and inflicted the only defeat on Nicholls, while Masters found himself stuck at the back behind Lawson, as Pirates edged further back with a 4-2.

Zach Cook and Newman made the quicker starts in Heat 14. Jenkins threw his absolute all at the Poole pair, who team-rode in front of him. On the final bend, Jenkins made one final effort, around the outside, and just failed in his attempt to get through, as Pirates took the 5-1 and moved 43-41 ahead.

That set up the finale, where Nicholls and Masters showed their quality to bring Oxford home and extend Cheetahs’ unbeaten run to seven meetings.

Nicholls top scored on 14 points, dropping just a single point to Worrall in Heat 13, while Masters collected 9+2, and the rest of the top five all scored well – Kerr (7+1), Heeps (7) and Jenkins (6+1). No-one could doubt the efforts of reserves of Kinsley (2) and Atkins (1+1), for example Atkins kept Worrall honest in Heat 11.

For Pirates, Newman followed up his 13+1 in April at Cowley for Pirates was another very impressive tally from reserve – this time he collected 11+2.

Oxford skipper Scott Nicholls said: “The important thing tonight is that we’ve taken the victory.

“Of course, we’d like to take more than a two-point margin down there for the second leg, but Poole are a strong outfit and they came back at us and forced us to a last-heat decider.

“Fortunately, we pulled off a 5-1 in the final race, which gives us a slender two-point lead going into the match at Poole. Psychologically, it’s a big difference to go down there with a two-point lead rather than a two-point deficit.

“It’s going to be tough. Poole are a good side, but we are too. There’s a good atmosphere within our team and there’s no reason why we can’t pull off the result we need at Poole. The whole team dug deep throughout the 15 races tonight, and we showed character to come away with a two-point lead.”

Monarch Oxford Cheetahs 46: Sam Masters 9+2, Cameron Heeps 7, Lewis Kerr 7+1, Jordan Jenkins 6+1, Scott Nicholls 14, Henry Atkins 1+1, Ryan Kinsley 2.

Poole Pirates 44: Steve Worrall 8+1, Anders Rowe 1+1, Ben Cook 9+1, Zach Cook 7+1, Richard Lawson 7, Kyle Newman 11+2, Adam Roynon 1+1.

PHOTO: Scott Nicholls and Sam Masters in front in the climatic Heat 15 (pic: STEVE EDMUNDS)