Kent Kings set for local derby
Kent Kings set for local derby

The delayed second leg of the First Round National Knock-out Cup tie is scheduled to take place at the Arlington Raceway home of Kent’s near neighbours Eastbourne Eagles on Saturday.

The first leg at Central Park back in May ended in a 48-42 win to the Sussex seasiders, meaning that the SLYDE-sponsored Kings need to overturn a six points deficit in order to progress into the next round of the competition. Eastbourne are the current NKOC holders and indeed have a 100% record in the competition, having also tasted Cup glory in the 2015 season.

So, it’s a major challenge for Chris Hunt’s charges – but the side are lifted by the news that coming in as the ‘Guest’ number one deputising for the injured Luke Bowen is Arlington track specialist Danny Ayres.

For reasons best known to some of the Eastbourne faithful, Ayres (a Kent Kings favourite for three seasons before his move this term to ride in the Travel Plus National League [TPNL] for Cradley) is the rider the Arlington fans seem to love to hate – so the inclusion of the rider who also rides for Redcar and King’s Lynn in the SGB Championship and Premiership respectively, is to be greeted in equal measure by the away fans with great delight and with consternation by the hosts.

Kent have been victims of something of a jinx when it comes to using Guests (the system where in the event of injury or other unavailability of a number one another club’s rider can be drafted in to cover) and so the familiar presence of the flamboyant Ayres, who scored a brilliant 15 points maximum when visiting with the Heathens, back in April is a reassurance and boost to all concerned.

With the exception of Ayres, it’s the same six riders who suffered a narrow defeat last week at the Isle of Wight (when that Guest jinx hit big time, with Liam Carr crashing out in the opening race) back in action for the SLYDE-sponsored Kings. Nathan Stoneman looks to shrug off the niggling ribs injury which was aggravated by falls at the island and at home against the American tourists at Central Park on Monday.

Jack Thomas and a 2015 NKOC winner with Eastbourne, Ben Hopwood (stand-in skipper in Luke Bowen’s absence) will be boosted by their excellent performances in that Four Team Tournament on Monday. George Hunter makes his NKOC debut for the Central Park-based side.

For the Eagles there are five survivors from the first leg, including three Kent-based riders in Mark Baseby, Georgie Wood and Orpington-born Charley Powell. Wood has now replaced Baseby in the number one race jacket – a watershed moment for the Maidstone-based racer, moving up for the first time into the prestigious top berth in a TPNL side.

Powell has moved out of the reserve berth into the difficult number two race jacket which means that the experienced Matt Bates is able to be used at reserve. Tom Brennan was still in that position when the sides met back on Whitsun Monday and the Eagles management took advantage of that by giving the three-times GB Youth champion six rides, a move which made all the difference in a closely-contested battle. Brennan is now in the main body of the Eastbourne side.

The two changes see former Kent Kings no. 8 Alex Spooner in as reserve (riding, despite the named one to seven declared by Eastbourne including another one time Kent no. 8, Matt Saul, who strangely has actually yet to make his debut for the Arlington-based club). Spooner of course rode for the Kings in the first leg and this is poised to be the second of three consecutive Kent matches when young Spooner is turning out for the opposition!

The other change from the first leg (one which the hosts had attempted to make before the abortive second leg, when it was suddenly called off in the first week of June) is the return to the Eagles line up of Jake Knight who rode in their Cup-winning squad of last term.

Teams [in alphabetical order]:

Eastbourne Eagles:
Mark Baseby; Matt Bates; Tom Brennan; Jake Knight; Charley Powell; Alex Spooner; Georgie Wood

Kent SLYDE Kings:
Bradley Andrews; Danny Ayres [G]; George Hunter; Ben Hopwood; Anders Rowe; Nathan Stoneman; Jack Thomas

The meeting is due to start at 7.30pm at the Arlington Raceway, Arlington Road West (off the A22), Hailsham, postcode for SATNAV purposes BN27 3RE.

Supporters are strongly recommended to keep a very close check before travelling on Saturday as previously this season meetings have been called off at Eastbourne Speedway due to medical cover and track equipment problems and last season twice Kent matches at Arlington were postponed at short notice due to localised weather conditions in the Hailsham area.

The Kent Kings website will be updated on Saturday to confirm that the meeting remains on and another means of checking for anyone with concerns before travelling is to call the track at Arlington Stadium on 01323 841642.