MISSION accomplished – but boy, oh boy, we didn’t expect it to be that tough!
Redcar Bears team manager told his side that nothing less than a full three-point haul would be acceptable from their opening Premier League fixture of the season at home to Glasgow Tigers last night.
They duly produced the goods with a 51-42 victory, but there were more than a few anxious moments along the way in a see-saw match.
In fact in took until the eighth race of a thoroughly entertaining meeting for the Ecco Finishing Bears to get their noses in front for the first time and even what appeared to be a safe 10-point advantage at the interval was whittled down to just one within a couple of heats.
But as No 1 Richard Lawson returned to his best form after an uncharacteristic last in his opening race, the Bears pulled away again at the end to complete the job.
After last week’s shock home mauling by the Tigers of Sheffield, the phrase “here we go again” echoed around South Tees Motorsports Park after heat one as Dimitri Berge won in the fastest time of the season so far and Lawson trailed in at the back as Glasgow notched a 5-1.
And when Luke Crang was harshly excluded for a first bend fall next time out (Duffill said later that ref Ronnie Allan believed the Bears reserve had ridden into an opponent which caused him to fall when to most of us it seemed he’d been given a nudge himself) you really feared it might be one of those nights.
But there was plenty of fight about the Bears team.
Hugh Skidmore was back to his old self after last week’s big fat zero and roared past Mark Lemon to partner Carl Wilkinson to a 5-1 in heat three as the scores were levelled up.
Glasgow edged ahead again by two points but the biggest cheer of the night came in heat eight when Rafal Konopka tasted victory for the first time as a Bear.
The young Pole, who has only been riding for two years, switched to his second bike for his last two rides and it worked wonders.
Konopka, who went on to score a battling paid win in his fourth ride, spearheaded a 5-1 with reliable big scoring reserve Jan Graversen to give his side a 26-22 lead – the first time they had been ahead in the match.
You could have been forgiven for thinking it was all over bar the shouting when the lead got up to 10 points but Glasgow reserve Kasper Lykke Nielsen – who had found a way past Wilkinson on the final bend to deny the Bears another h5-1 in heat nine – insisted his side would stage a fightback and he wasn’t kidding.
Berge battled past Aaron Summers to win in black and white in heat 11, then Rusty Harrison and Nielsen both found a way past Skidmore in the next race to cut the gap to a single point.
But the Bears finished with a flourish and denied the visitors the bonus point with a final heat 4-2 as, despite Glasgow starting from the favoured gates two and four, Lawson gated first and stayed there while Summers fought his way past Berge to finish third behind Harrison.
“They certainly made us work had for that,” reflected Duffill afterwards. “It was a much tougher meeting than I had anticipated.
“But as we said beforehand you can never underestimate the opposition and they had a couple of riders in their side who had a lot fire in their bellies and we saw some excellent racing.
“After heat seven we took over the meeting though. We had a bit of a blip when they played the tactical and pulled it right back but it was a superb performance from everyone. I’m happy with that.
“The most pleasing thing for me was the form of Rafal. He has lot of ability but he wasn’t making starts.
“But he’s grown in confidence and he’s looked better and better as he’s gone on. He’s going to make it a very tough decision when Richard Hall is available again after his suspension.”
Konopka was a revelation in his final two rides. After gating first and staying there to earn his first victory, he went wheel to wheel with Harrison, losing second place and then winning in back in a thrilling heat 10.
“He’s got a really good racing head on him,” said Duffill. “You can see him thinking as he’s riding about his line and how he’s going to get past people.
“He’s got a lot of talent, you can tell that by the way he rides the bike. He looks in control and rarely gets out of shape – that’s usually the sign of a really good rider.
“He’s only ridden for a couple of years and there’s a lot to come from him. If he can improve his starting, he can be a really big performer at this level.”
BEARS: Aaron Summers 12, Richard Lawson 10+1, Jan Graversen 9+1, Carl Wilkinson 8, Rafal Konopka 6+1, Hugh Skidmore 6+1, Luke Crang 0
TIGERS: Dimitri Berge 12, Kasper Lykke Nielsen 9+1, Rusty Harrison 8, Theo Pijper 5+1, Kevin Wolbert 4+2, Anders Thomsen 3+1, Mark Lemon 1.