Connor Mountain and Luke Ruddick were both withdrawn with injuries as Mildenhall Fen Tigers began their National Trophy campaign with a 48-42 defeat at home to Kent on Sunday.
With a tricky start as the track bedded in, a coming together between Danny Ayres and Mountain in heat three saw both riders clatter into the fence at an alarming speed.
Although Mountain was badly knocked about and had to be withdrawn from the meeting the early signs were that nothing was broken.
This was a massive blow for the Fen Tigers as the British Under-21 semi-final runner-up had already shown excellent early form this season.
With only the reserves able to cover, additional pressure was placed on both Ruddick and Rob Parker, and it told in heat eight when Ruddick crashed heavily for a third time and was also withdrawn from the meeting with wrist and shoulder problems.
The Fen Tigers continued to battle against adversity and managed to claim eight of the fifteen heat winners, but could not provide the required back up to secure victory.
Spearheaded from the front by a revitalised Danny Halsey and the returning Jon Armstrong, the heat leaders received support from captain Connor Coles and Alfie Bowtell.
Armstrong’s opening two rides showed clearly that he had lost none of his track craft around the West Row circuit, first executing a perfect inside pass on James Shanes before beating a charging Ayres with a pillar to post victory.
Halsey, like Armstrong, won three of his five rides and looked ready to form a pairing as they rode a perfect 5-1 in heat 13.
Heat victories from Coles and Bowtell also promised better days, while Rob Parker had a baptism of fire, being required to take seven rides due to the injuries and battled hard for his points although struggling with his starts.
“It was always going to be difficult against a good Kent side, but down to five riders we really could not have done much more,” said promoter Kevin Jolly.
“I was impressed by Dan (Halsey) and Jon (Armstrong) both on and off the track today, they really worked hard for the team cause, and although the atmosphere on our side of the pits was obviously affected by the two injuries they kept everyone going and with a little luck we may just have sneaked it.
“Connor (Coles) and Alfie (Bowtell) both looked good as the meeting progressed and I have no doubt if we had not lost Connor (Mountain) we would have won.
“Hopefully the news on Connor and Luke in the morning will be positive and we can regroup ready for the Isle of Wight next Sunday.
“I would like to thank all the supporters today for their patience and understanding, we wanted a much slicker meeting than we got but with the injuries I am afraid it was somewhat out of our hands.”
* For an update on the two riders’ fitness, see this week’s print editions of the Newmarket Journal and Bury Free Press.