Eagles gear up for play-offs after best season in nine years

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EASTBOURNE Speedway are enjoying their best season for nine years. Their 50-43 win over Coventry at Arlington Stadium on Monday secured second place in the league table – the highest finish since 2002 when the Eagles were top.

Of course, that success was bitter sweet: there was no league title for the first time for the team that finished top.

It was all down to the play-offs. In those days five teams qualified. Eastbourne went straight to the final while Wolverhampton won their way through.

When it came to the final, the Midlands team were hot and the Eagles, suffering from injuries, were stone cold and lost out. That night still lives with me. Frankly, I don’t think I will ever get over it.

Now Eastbourne have a chance of turning the tables. When the semi-final play-offs were announced, Poole – who finished top – picked King’s Lynn as their opponents, leaving us with Lakeside.

It was what most connected with the club wanted. Make no mistake, Lakeside will be a mighty challenge to overcome but there were fears the Norfolk side might provide an even sterner test.

The first leg of the play-off is on Monday, at Lakeside, with the second leg a week later at Arlington.

Eastbourne secured second place in the table with a 50-43 win on Monday over Coventry – the second time in nine days they had beaten the defending champions by that score.

Team manager Trevor Geer said: “The riders knew they couldn’t relax for the Coventry match and they rose to the task, even though our play-off spot was secure. We all wanted that second spot and it was a brilliant display.

“Everyone has worked so hard since the season began to get us into the semi-finals of the league championship and the KO Cup.

“It has been a superb year and I am confident we can go on and win silverware. And, yes, I do believe we could do a league and cup double.”

The Eagles win ensured Coventry would not qualify for the play-offs.

And that too was a big incentive for the Eastbourne team – Coventry are known for their late runs to snatch the title and the Eagles were quietly glad that this threat had been snuffed out.

In an ideal world – certainly from the financial standpoint – Eastbourne will beat Lakeside and then go on to win the title by beating Poole.

That’s two local derbies that will set the fans of all three teams alight.

Bring it on.

Before then, there’s the no small matter of the KO Cup semi-final against Poole.

In the second leg tomorrow (Saturday, 7.30pm) at Arlington, the Eagles will take to the track just two points behind after losing 46-44 in Dorset on Wednesday.

Eastbourne have Lee Richardson in the team in place of Joonas Kylmakorpi, who is riding in France in the final long-track GP of the season.

The Finn takes a 15-point lead into the meeting and is on course to retain his world title.

WORDS BY SHALEMAN