Cradley Heathens 46-44 Kent Kings
Cradley Heathens 46-44 Kent Kings

Kent TouchTec Kings completed their regular National League [NL] fixtures on Monday evening up in the West Midlands losing in a last heat decider to Cradley Heathens. 

The win for the Black Country club keeps their own Play Offs hopes very much alive – moving them into fourth place (knocking the Isle of Wight Warriors out of the race for the title deciding play offs which start later this month) and meaning that only a win by Mildenhall by more than six points in the final match of the season away at Plymouth on Thursday will deny the West Midlander outfit a place alongside Kent in the coveted top four.

For Chris Hunt’s men there was the consolation of a bonus point gained on the road – and the satisfaction of having skipper Rob Ledwith and his sometimes stand-in in that role, Jordan Jenkins both back in action; plus an impressive paid double points score from the reserve berth for another recent returnee, Alex Spooner. 

The hosts had maximum man Max Clegg (a 14, paid 15 score for the experienced number one) and former Kings man Luke Harris very much as the spearhead of their largely unexpected victory – with back up from Jack Smith and another one-time Kent favourite, Connor Coles (‘guesting’ for the Heathens) seeing them just over the line.

Harris & Clegg combined for a 5-1 in the opening heat over Kemp and the returning Ledwith to take an initial lead – but the Kings hit back with traditional vigour supplying race winners and heat advantages to boot in each of the next four heats: Spooner with Sam Woolley in heat two, the resurgent Jenkins combining with Dan Gilkes in the next race to level things up; and then Anders Rowe & Spooner and Kemp & the skipper all scoring 4-2s and putting the visitors into a four points lead of their own.

It was a lead to last until heat 10 when another Clegg & Harris 5-1 revitalised the homesters and another Clegg heat win in the always crucial heat 13 meant Cradley led by two with two heats remaining. Happiness might once have been 40-38 but would count for nought for the hosts if they didn’t hold on and with Gilkes winning his first race of the evening and Spooner reaching the double figures mark in a 4-2 to Chris Hunt’s charges in the next race, it meant that, as in the meeting of these two sides at Central Park earlier in the campaign, it was going down to the wire.

The rider the Kent fans love to hate, Smith was given the nod over Harris to partner his skipper Clegg in the ‘do or die’ heat 15 – up against Kent’s NL Pairs winning combo of top scoring Rowe and Kemp and it went the Heathens’ way to end proceedings 46-44 to Cradley.

Next up for Kent (as they await who the league toppers Leicester decide to pick as their Play Off Semi Final opponents) is the annual ‘open’ championship meeting at Central Park, the Kent Laurels for the WJ Cearns Trophy – with the TouchTec Kings squad all in action this time for individual glory after the iconic Shied and a handsome cash prize and aiming to dethrone the 2018 winner who’s back to defend his title, Jon Armstrong.  That’s at Central Park Stadium on Monday 23rd. September – 6.30pm start time.

Cradley Heathens         46

Max Clegg 2′, 3, 3, 3, 3 14+1 [PM]

Luke Harris 3, 1, 1′, 2′, 3 10+2

Rider Replacement – Tom Spencer

Connor Coles (G)   2, 2, 2, 2 8

Jack Smith 2, 3, 2, 1, 1 9

Harry McGurk 2, 0, 2, 1′, 0, 0, R 5+1

James Chattin R, 0, 0, 0 0

Kent TouchTec Kings 44

Drew Kemp 1, 3, 3, 0, 0 7

Rob Ledwith 0, 1, FX, 1 2

Jordan Jenkins 3, 2, 0, 2 7

Dan Gilkes 1, 1′, 1, 3 6+1

Anders Rowe 3, 2, 3, 2, 2 12

Sam Woolley 1, 0, 0 1

Alex Spooner 3, 1, 3, 1′, 1 9+1

Heat details

1 (rerun) Harris, Clegg, Kemp, Ledwith  (5-1)

2 Spooner, McGurk, Woolley, Chattin (ret.) (7-5)

3 Jenkins, Coles, Gilkes, McGurk (9-9)

4 Rowe, Smith, Spooner, Chattin (11-13)

5 Kemp, Coles, Ledwith, Chattin (13-17)

6 Clegg, Rowe, Harris, Woolley (17-19)

7 Smith, Jenkins, Gilkes, Chattin (20-22)

8 (rerun) Spooner, McGurk, Harris, Ledwith (fell exc.) (23-25)

9 Rowe, Coles, McGurk, Woolley (26-28)

10 Clegg, Harris, Gilkes, Jenkins (31-29)

11 Kemp, Smith, Ledwith, McGurk (33-33)

12 Harris, Jenkins, Spooner, McGurk (36-36)

13 Clegg, Rowe, Smith, Kemp (40-38)

14 Gilkes, Coles, Spooner, McGurk (42-42)

15 Clegg, Rowe, Smith, Kemp (46-44)

Picture supplied by Paul Rose.