Fen Tigers aim to make use of home advantage
Mildenhall Fen Tigers manager Phil Kirk feels his side must make the most of racing at home first if they are to lift the National League Knockout Cup for the first time since 2012, writes Graham Clark.
The West Row-based outfit will bid to avenge their defeat to the Eastbourne Eagles in the final of the competition 12 months ago when taking them on once again at Mildenhall Stadium tomorrow (8pm), before heading to Arlington for the second leg on Saturday (7.30pm).
Although the Fen Tigers have defeated the Eagles at home in both the National League and National Trophy this season, Kirk has warned they cannot afford to take things for granted.
“We need to perform like we did when we beat the Kent Kings (61-29) the other week in the National League play-off semi-final at home,” he said.
“We have beaten Eastbourne at home convincingly twice this season, but they count for nothing now and this is a one-off final.
“I remember last year we lost the first leg at Arlington by 28 points. They beat us fair and square down there and we were lucky to get out with what we did.
“It was so hard in the second leg and you are virtually six races behind and then you are over-racing and chasing all the time.
“Everyone has got to be at the top of their game and we can’t make no mistakes.
With the Eagles boasting an imperious home record, Kirk has in his mind the bare minimum lead the Fen Tigers must establish from the opening leg to give themselves a realistic chance of adding to their victory in the National Trophy.
“We need to get between 18 and 20 points ahead to then transfer the pressure onto them,” added Kirk.
“We are solid, though, away from home and there is nothing to say we couldn’t go and win down there with the way the boys are riding.
“This is a different team to last year and we know how well Josh (Bailey) and Drew (Kemp) go round there. They have come so far they deserve success.”
Josh Bailey made an instant impact on his return to the team following a 28-day lay-off due to concussion with three wins as the Fen Tigers registered their 21st successive victory in all competitions thanks to a 53-37 league victory over the Birmingham Brummies on Sunday.
Encountering a tricky start, the hosts found themselves 23-19 down after seven heats before Bailey and Sam Bebee combined for a 5-1 in heat eight to level the scores up.
With the Brummies losing leading lights Leon Flint to injury in heat seven and James Shanes due to a lack of equipment after a crash in the first attempt to run heat 11, the Fen Tigers took full advantage by claiming three 4-2s and a brace of 5-1s to close out the meeting.
“Fair play to Josh he has had a lot of bashes this year,” said Kirk. “But he is a tough customer who is an asset to the team. I was glad to welcome him back.”