WSRA Oxford Chargers powered by SD Timmo Car Sales saw their run of nine successive victories ended as they slipped a 38-50 defeat at Leicester last night (Saturday).
Both teams were mathematically assured of meeting again in the Grand Final, after Mildenhall lost at Edinburgh on Friday, while last night’s result means that Leicester Lion Cubs finish first in the regular league table, while Oxford Chargers are second.
Last night’s meeting was billed as a dressed rehearsal for the Grand Final and it was action-packed, entertaining, and sometimes chaotic and bizarre night of speedway, with a battle for the aggregate bonus point that went right down to the final bend of the last race.
Chargers led 22-20 after seven races, after Luke Killeen produced a beautiful move to pass Leicester skipper Joe Thompson to win Heat 7.
Lion Cubs then took control of the meeting with two 5-1s and a 4-2, before a highly controversial Heat 11. Jordan Jenkins and Jody Scott trapped ahead of Thompson, but Jenkins hit a rut on the first turn, lifted, and came down. Scott saw his skipper was in trouble and laid his bike down, acting so promptly that he had put the bike down was JJ was still in the process of falling. Leicester’s Max James also laid his bike down.
The referee slapped on both the white and yellow exclusion lights, kicking out both Oxford riders from the re-run, much to the amazement of the crowd, while the sizeable contingent of Oxford supporters on the first bend voiced their displeasure at a rider being excluded for taking the safety precaution of laying his bike down.
It was one of a number of strange refereeing decisions, some of which went against both teams, that left the fans of both sides somewhat bewildered.
Around the same time, it had been obvious that the first bend of the track was causing problems. After Heat 12 had been halted twice, with both Ryan Kinsley and Leicester’s Max James excluded in separate attempts to hold the race, there was a delay while remedial work was carried out on the problematic hole/rut.
Meanwhile, Oxford moved back in front by one point on aggregate, with a 5-1 from Jason Garrad and Luke Killeen in Heat 14, while 18-year-old Killeen doing a grand of team-riding in second place.
Oxfordshire born-and-bred Garrad – who has returned to speedway after a nine-year break – had his most impressive night so far in Chargers colours, starting with a victory in Heat 2. Garrad was deservingly given a place in Heat 15 alongside Killeen, with the Oxford management not risking Jenkins on a less-than-perfect track one day before a crucial Oxford Cheetahs vs Redcar Bears Championship play-off meeting.
For over three laps, Killeen and Garrad held the second and third places behind Thompson needed to clinch the bonus point for Chargers. But Garrad then hit the rut on the final lap, drifted wide on the second bend, lost momentum and Oxford Cheetah Ashton Boughen – who rides for Leicester in the National League – flew inside Garrad on the third bend. Garrad tried to hit back around the outside on the final bend, but Boughen held on for third place, as Lion Cubs snatched the bonus point with a 4-2 – winning by 89-88 on aggregate.
In reality, the destination of the bonus point meant very little – hence the absence of Jenkins from the final race – but it provided an entertaining climax to the evening and sent the home fans away happy.
Luke Killeen top-scored for Chargers with 12+1 and was the only rider to defeat Thompson when he passed him on win Heat 7.
Killeen said: “I’m happy with how my night went. I earned my first Heat 15 since moving up into the main body of the side. I feel that I’m pulling my weight, despite moving up from reserve, and hopefully there’s more to come when we face Leicester in the final.
“The track was quite greasy coming into the bends, but quite heavy outside on the dirt-line. It was tricky because you couldn’t set up your bike to ride both the inside and the outside. There was quite a big difference across the track and that was the main issue.
“We were learning about the track tonight and hopefully it will set us up nicely for when we come in the final, however the track is that night.
“In Heat 14, I just settled behind Jason to make sure we got the 5-1. I didn’t have to guard him – I just was more worried at keeping back whoever was on my tail [Vinnie Foord]. Jason did really well in that race and he proved what he could do tonight.
“Tonight was almost like a dressed rehearsal for the final – it was more about that than winning the meeting or taking the bonus point. We were here to learn.
“Three months off the bike with injury earlier this season wasn’t ideal for me. But since I’ve come back, I feel something in my head has changed and I’m now riding much smoother.”
Leicester Lion Cubs 50: Max Clegg 3+1, Ashton Boughen 12, Max Perry 10, Tom Spencer 4+2, Joe Thompson 14, Vinnie Foord 1+1, Max James 6+2.
WSRA Oxford Chargers, powered by SD Timmo Car Sales 38: Jordan Jenkins 8, Jody Scott 1, Ryan Kinsley 2, Luke Killeen 12+1, Henry Atkins 6+1, Jacob Clouting 0, Jason Garrad 9+1.