MONARCH Oxford Cheetahs took a further step towards the Cab Direct Championship Play-Off Final with a 53-37 victory over Redcar Bears at Oxford Stadium yesterday (Sunday), after a meeting that was more hard-fought than the final scoreline suggests.
Cheetahs completed the double over Bears, following their historic 47-43 victory at Redcar on Friday night, when they recovered from 14 points down – no Oxford team has ever won before from so far behind.
Redcar were somewhat depleted for yesterday’s clash – Charles Wright was again missing through injury, while in addition Connor Bailey was in league action in Poland and Erik Riss was fulfilling a longtrack commitment on the continent. But Bears chose their guests wisely and stayed in contention until Scott Nicholls and Sam Masters clinched all three points for Cheetahs, including the aggregate bonus point, with a 5-1 in Heat 13.
In their group, Oxford have scored seven points from three wins – double victory over Redcar and a 50-40 home victory over Glasgow. Glasgow have two points from two meetings – after beating Redcar by 55-35 on Saturday. Redcar have failed to score from three meetings and are out of contention.
Oxford require a single point from their clash at Glasgow tomorrow evening (Tuesday). Forty-one points at the Peugeot Ashfield Stadium would clinch the aggregate point and a place in the Championship Grand Final, where Poole Pirates are the likely opposition.
Even if Oxford failed to gain the bonus point, Glasgow would still need to win at Redcar on Wednesday night to pip Cheetahs to top spot.
Last night, Cheetahs soon stretched out a 20-10 lead, largely thanks to two 5-1s from the dynamic middle pairing of Lewis Kerr and Jordan Jenkins in Heats 3 and 5. The latter race was a particular highlight as Jenkins flew around the outside on the opening lap to pass Danny King and Jason Edwards, and then held off the challenge of 2016 British Champion King for the remainder of the race.
In between, Nicholls and Ashton Boughen took a 4-2 from Heat 4, with Boughen making a rapid start and holding back Justin Sedgmen for a lap.
A run of three successive 3-3s followed, although the races weren’t certainly not without excitement, with Masters rounding Edwards on the fourth bend to win Heat 6, and then Cameron Heeps bursting between Leon Flint and Luke Harrison on the second bend to take the chequered flag in Heat 8.
Redcar introduced King into Heat 9 as a tactical substitute and he clawed back a 5-1 along Sedgmen, despite a determined effort by Kerr at the end of the opening lap.
Masters was usually sluggish from the start in Heat 10, and fought back from last to second, to ensure a 3-3 alongside Heeps, behind race winner Flint, as Cheetahs had a slender six-point lead heading into the interval.
Scott Nicholls and Atkins edged Cheetahs eight in front with a 4-2 in Heat 11, and after a shared Heat 12 won by Kerr, Nicholls and Masters both flew inside King on the opening lap of Heat 13 for the match-winning 5-1.
Jenkins and Atkins again showed they are Heat 14 specialists with a 5-1 over Flint in that race, while Kerr and Jenkins were given the nod in Heat 15 by Oxford team manager Peter Schroeck.
A good four-way battle was developing when Jenkins took an awkward fall on the first bend of the third lap. Jenkins sustained a hand injury and it was subsequently confirmed that he was been ruled out of the meeting at Glasgow on Tuesday, where rider replacement will operate in his place.
In the re-run, Kerr flew inside King on the second bend to finish the meeting with his fourth race win and 13 points.
Nicholls scored a classy 12-point maximum, fending off both Sedgmen in Heat 4 and King in Heat 11. Masters (10+1) dropped just a single point, while Jenkins (7+2) was involved in three of Oxford’s four 5-1s. Heeps and Atkins both collected 5+1, while Boughen scored a point when he beat fellow 16-year-old Luke Harrison in Heat 4.
Team manager Peter Schroeck said: “We put in a professional performance against Redcar. We didn’t take anything for granted and the boys got stuck in straight away. It was a great meeting with good racing and the Oxford track held up very well.
“Redcar pushed us hard, but the boys had it in hand, had a bit of fun and kept the smiles on their faces. Lewi and Jordan rode well as a pair and it was such a shame for Jordan when he came off in Heat 15 and hurt his hand.
“We are going to Glasgow on Tuesday to win the meeting. If you go with an attitude of just trying to score 41 points, it can go wrong and those are going to be the hardest points you ever need to find. We’ll go in the positive attitude believing we can win.
“We still have a good hand to play. The back-up is to make sure we take the bonus point, and I have that in my back pocket if we need it.
“If we’re meant to reach the final, then we’ll reach the final. All I can ask is 100% from the boys and I know they’ll give that.”
Monarch Oxford Cheetahs 53: Sam Masters 10+1, Cameron Heeps 5+1, Lewis Kerr 13, Jordan Jenkins 7+2, Scott Nicholls 12, Henry Atkins 5+1, Ashton Boughen 1.
Redcar Bears 37: Danny King 10+1, Connor Bailey R/R, Danyon Hume 2+2, Leon Flint (guest) 11, Justin Sedgmen (guest) 5+2, Jason Edwards 7, Luke Harrison 2+1.
* FOR tomorrow’s (Tuesday) clash at Glasgow, Jordan Jenkins is ruled out by a hand injury. Cheetahs will use rider replacement for Jenkins, while Luke Killeen comes in at No 8. For Oxford fans not travelling up to Scotland, they can watch live coverage on the British Speedway Network (BSN), while there will also be commentary on BBC Oxford.
PHOTO: The winning moment, as Scott Nicholls and Sam Masters pass Danny King early in Heat 13 (PIC: STEVE EDMUNDS)