Published: 09:12, 21 April 2019
| Updated: 09:13, 21 April 2019
By Derek Barclay
A night of incident, controversy and misfortune – culminating in a last heat decider – finished with the Kent Kings tumbling to a 46-44 defeat at Plymouth Gladiators in the National Trophy.
Extraordinarily – no one can ever recall it happening before for any team in speedway’s three leagues – the rider replacement for missing number one Drew Kemp made zero points for the visitors – and in such circumstances to take it all the way to a last heat decider and secure the bonus point was an exceptional achievement.
On a heavily watered track conditions were tricky and re-runs aplenty with skipper Rob Ledwith, seeing the circuit at the St Boniface sports arena for the first time, having an especially difficult evening – falling in all three of his rides.
The two debutants in the reserve berths for the TouchTec-sponsored Kings, Nathan Ablitt and Dan Gilkes, had a night to remember though: scoring paid 11 and paid 14 respectively and clocking up between them four of the six heats wins the visitors chalked up in getting so close to victory.
The other two heat wins were delivered by Anders Rowe who finished on 12 and Alex Spooner will be satisfied enough with a solid score of paid nine.
It was Gilkes and Ablitt who gave the Kings the early initiative with a 5-1 in heat two – this after decisions had gone against Chris Hunt’s charges in the opening heat with Spooner incurring the wrath of the referee with a first bend fall which usually but not on this occasion sees a rider allowed back in.
Heat three saw double calamity with the Kings’ other debutant Jordan Jenkins suffer engine failure just as he reached the tapes and then finding his team mate Gilkes also missing the two minutes cut off.
The lead lost then was actually never to be regained.
However, it was close throughout – the Kings at one point going four points behind but battling back to parity with a vital heat eight 5-1 from Rowe and Ablitt.
The scores remained level for the next two heats meaning it was 30-30 with five heats to go – though the decision to adjudge Ledwith at fault when he fell under Richard Andrews’ challenge in heat nine increased the view of the travelling Kent fans that things were really not ultimately going their way.
And so it was with former Kings’ man Nathan Stoneman leading his new side to heat advantages in heats 11 and 13 to put the Gladiators on the cusp of victory.
Heat 12 had seen another surprising decision from the man on the button – the home side’s Scott Campos locked up leaving the unlucky Jenkins really nowhere to go. Both riders went down and to the astonishment of all it was the Kent debutant who was excluded.
Nothing short of a 5-1 from Ablitt & Spooner in the penultimate heat would do and they duly delivered, setting up that last heat denouncement. Stoneman though wasn’t to be denied his five ride full maximum (something which ironically had always alluded him during his two years at Central Park) and so the Kings were left licking their Gladiator-inflicted wounds on the long journey home.
It's home sweet home tomorrow when Belle Vue Colts visit in the Easter Challenge (4pm).