REDCAR Bears will have to overturn a yawning 20-point deficit if they are to get their hands on the Tees Tweed Trophy.
They’re also going to have to look a whole lot sharper if they are to open their League Cup account at Newcastle this evening.
It’s true that early season matches such as last night’s at Shielfield Park, the Ecco Finishing Bears’ first for the year which they lost 57-37, are primarily an exercise in blowing away the cobwebs. After all, many of the riders haven’t raced since October.
But it was Berwick’s first match of the year too and they dealt out a lesson in gating, leading from the moment they clocked up a 5-1 in heat two and were never seriously under threat from their visitors.
New Bears No 1 Richard Lawson won his first race as a Bear, as well as the last race of the evening and was never out of the top two all evening. If he can keep that up all year he’ll be a cracking spearhead for the team.
But Carl Wilkinson was their only other heat winner, swooping round Steen Jensen to take the chequered flag in heat eight.
Hugh Skidmore did his job as a second string and would have increased his five-point return but for an uncharacteristic fall in heat seven while third with the Bears on course for a 3-3, while skipper Aaron Summers was hampered by clutch problems but always looked up for it and snatched a dramatic second place on the line while on a tactical double ride, inflicting Matthew Wethers’ only defeat of the night.
But Jan Graversen had a stinker of a meeting, falling in heat two and retiring and next time out was the unfortunate victim of an tangle with ex-Bear Kevin Doolan just after the start, the Aussie’s footrest getting caught in the Dane’s chain and snapping it.
That said he was all over the Berwick pair in his first race and fell looking for a last gasp way around them. One more lap and he’d have had them, for sure.
Richard Hall will be disappointed with his debut for the club while Luke Crang managed only one point on his first appearance at Premier League level although the former spent some time out injured last term and the latter is still very much a newcomer to the sport and is still on a learning curve.
Crang in fact was second in his second outing when he hit the deck.
So while the Bears were very much second best on the night and, with their home leg of the TTT lost to the weather will have to get dialled in fast, a big defeat isn’t the end of the world by a long stretch – the Bears were brushed aside by Newcastle in their first match last year, remember, but went on to reach the play-offs and the KO Cup semi-finals.
“My main observation is that we weren’t making starts,” said team manager Jitendra Duffill. “Berwick showed us the way into the first corner in every heat, but after that we matched them for pace.
“I think every rider showed some promise in at least one heat so we just need to take that and build on it.
“Berwick are a strong side and I think a lot of people will be turned over there this year but all over our riders showed glimpses of promise.
“A couple of daft engine failures cost us points to but that’s what these meetings are all about – getting the gremlins out of the way. A lot of the lads were on new equipment. I’m not going to read to much into that.
“Tonight at Newcastle is where it starts for real and that’s when we have to get it right.”
For Berwick Claus Vissing scored a four-ride maximum while former Bear Matej Kus clicked into gear after a sluggish start and won his last two races.
BANDITS: Claus Vissing 12, Kevin Doolan 10, Matthew Wethers 10, David Bellego 7+3, Matej Kus 7, Liam Carr 6+1, Steen Jensen 5+3.
BEARS: Richard Lawson 14, Aaron Summers 8+1, Carl Wilkinson 5+2, Hugh Skidmore 5, Richard Hall 3, Jan Graversen 1+1, Luke Crang 1.