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Mildenhall Fen Tigers left licking their wounds after punishing defeat to Cradley Heathens in the National League

Mildenhall Fen Tigers team manager Malcolm Vasey praised the efforts of those riders still left standing following their 51-38 defeat to bitter rivals Cradley Heathens in the National League on Sunday, writes Graham Clark.

The West Row-based outfit crashed to their heaviest home defeat since going down 56-34 to the Eastbourne Eagles in September 2016, after finishing the contest with only four riders, in a meeting plagued by a catalogue of disasters.

After losing reserve Macauley Leek to a dislocated shoulder, following a fall after his victory in heat two, the Fen Tigers were dealt a further blow when fellow reserve Elliot Kelly was withdrawn from the meeting after a first bend crash with Jack Smith in heat four.

Jason Edwards (b) and Danny Ayres(r) in action for the Fen Tigers Picture: Derek Leader (12209409)
Jason Edwards (b) and Danny Ayres(r) in action for the Fen Tigers Picture: Derek Leader (12209409)

The Fen Tigers’ miserable afternoon was completed a race later when Charlie Brooks sustained several broken ribs when coming to grief, leaving them to contest five of the last 10 heats with one rider.

“It was a disaster of titanic proportions,” said Vasey. “A big problem was we had nobody to replace Charlie Brooks and that is why I saved the tactical substitute until heat 14 so we had a rider out in the race. It is a prodigious defeat as I think we could have won the meeting by 15 points with the team we had.

“Our lads continued to battle for the rest of the meeting and they never let their heads drop and they did try hard to stem the tide. The lads were well fired up today and were ready to do what they had to do to win. As they say the battle may have been lost but the war is not over.”

Having been reduced to four riders following the opening five heats, the slender lead the hosts enjoyed was soon overhauled by the Heathens in heat seven thanks to the first of two 5-1s fronted by former Fen Tigers stalwart Dan Halsey.

Wins for Matt Marson in heat eight, and a second of the afternoon for Jason Edwards in heat 11, kept the Fen Tigers in with a slim chance of victory but those hopes were dashed with Halsey teaming with Tom Spencer in heat 12 to front his second 5-1 of the afternoon. Danny Ayres gave the home fans something to cheer about with back-to-back wins in heats 13 and 14, but it was the Heathens who had the last laugh with Smith and Halsey, who had been on for a 15-point maximum until a late error, teaming up for a 4-2.

“It was always going to be hard only having four riders in the end. To lose both reserves is pretty big, as they are the ones if anyone in the main body of the team gets injured to take the rides,” said Edwards.

“That made some of the races hard as we couldn’t stick anything in when we knew we only had three riders and the best you could hope for was a 3-3. With me getting beaten by Dan Halsey and Danny Ayres crashing in heat 10 it didn’t help, but we were going that bit harder. I know we lost but we did ourselves proud considering we finished with only four riders.”

* The Fen Tigers’ scheduled league clash against the Belle Vue Colts on Monday was rained off.