Devils end Birmingham’s title hopes

Reigning champions Birmingham saw the last chance of holding on to their National League title dashed when they slumped to a 34-25 defeat at the hands of Plymouth at the St Boniface Arena on Friday evening.

The meeting was abandoned because of rain, but the result will stand because the minimum requirement of ten of the scheduled 15 heats had been completed.

Black clouds hovered above the stadium and, as the rain started to fall, the track clearly became wet and riders were having problems with visibility with wet shale and spray but battled on.

After Heat Ten discussions with the Birmingham team manager Graham Drury, referee Christina Turnbull and home team manager Laurence Rogers resulted in the decision being made to call a halt with rider safety being of paramount importance.

The Devils started the meeting well with an opening heat 4-2 followed by a maximum 5-1 heat success from teenage duo Henry Atkins and Jamie Halder.

Eighteen-year-old Halder again impressed and in his second ride gave experienced campaigner David Mason, a Plymouth track specialist, a tough battle, leading the veteran racer for three laps before being passed.

Atkins ended as the team’s top scorer with paid eight from his three rides, recovering from a Heat Eight first bend crash that saw rival reserve Taylor Hampshire disqualified with the Devon duo of Atkins and Richard Andrews recording a 5- 0 with the race awarded after Brummies No.2 Layne Cupitt came to an abrupt stop on the last lap after a plug came adrift.

That put the Devils 29-18 up and with a 4-2 from skipper Benji Compton and Callum Walker in Heat Nine that extended the lead to 13 points.

Heat Ten, though, saw home No.1 Adam Roynon controversially dis- qualified when he crashed after try- ing to find a way around the outside of Birmingham’s Tom Bacon.

Roynon had earlier somehow kept on his bike in Heat Six, with the rain falling, to finish third after initially leading the race.

Steve Boxall was back to his best and made a superb pass of Liam Carr in Heat Four with an outside burst of speed that had the home fans shouting and cheering. He followed that with another win in Heat Seven to be unbeaten on the night in his two rides.

Plymouth team boss Laurence Rogers commented: “It was good to get the win but a pity for the fans that we didn’t get all the heats in as well as the Southern Development League match with Reading.

“But rider safety is highly important. Even riders winning races were having problems with spray and vision and the black clouds above us looked full of rain. Graham Drury, the Birmingham team man- ager and an ex-rider himself, was in full agreement with the decision to abandon proceedings as no-one wants to see a rider injured.”

Drury said: “We’re renowned for coming on strong in the latter stages and we were confident our big hit- ters could pull it back for us.

“But conditions were becoming trickier all the time and visibility for the riders behind the leader was very difficult indeed.
“We’ve run out of steam at the wrong stage of the season and we wish the top four teams all the best in the play-offs.”

The Devils face Mildenhall at the SBA on Friday in a re-arranged fixture in what is the final home League meeting of the season but they have plenty to come after that.

On Friday, September 29, Plymouth face Eastbourne in the Knock-Out Cup semi-final with the return in Sussex 24 hours later. A win overall would put the Devils in the final with Friday, October 13, re- served for this.

Then, on Friday, October 6, it is the National Trophy Final against Mildenhall with the return in Suffolk on the Sunday afternoon (October 8).

Plymouth are still working on bringing in sufficient sponsorship to stage the Colin Hill Memorial Meeting with hopes of attracting some top names to the St Boniface Arena before the season ends next month.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.