Berwick Bandits head south as battle heats up to claim play-off spot

Key men on the road for Berwick Bandits, Jacob Hook and Thomas Jorgensen. Picture: Taz McDougallKey men on the road for Berwick Bandits, Jacob Hook and Thomas Jorgensen. Picture: Taz McDougall
Key men on the road for Berwick Bandits, Jacob Hook and Thomas Jorgensen. Picture: Taz McDougall
Berwick Bandits once again shuffle the pack in search of the winning formula as they face key trips to Plymouth Gladiators and table-topping Oxford Cheetahs this week.

Berwick team manager Scott Courtney has named Jye Etheridge at number two for the southern tour which begins at Plymouth on Tuesday (July 4) and continues to Oxford the following night.

Skipper Leon Flint lines up at four again, partnering first-time Plymouth visitor Jonas Knudsen, while plenty of attention will be on the reserve pairing.

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Connor Coles and Jacob Hook know that they have the beating of Gladiators Ben Trigger, James Pearson and Ben Morley at National League level and Berwick are hoping that they take that form into Tuesday night’s clash as they search for sixth position and the final play-off place.

The 216-metre Coliseum – 154 metres shorter than Berwick’s home base at Shielfield Park – has proved a tricky challenge for visiting Berwick sides over the years, although there were victories in 2011 and 2014.

Ben Barker top-scored for Plymouth on both of those occasions and will be one of the main threats again on Tuesday night.

Kyle Howarth and Richie Worrall complete a solid-looking spearhead but the rest of the side is relatively inexperienced and has struggled to get victories on the board this season.

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After beating Poole by two points for their only BSN Series Southern group success and then Scunthorpe in their opening Cab Direct Championship fixture, the Gladiators have lost their other six league encounters.

Australian Pearson was snapped up following his release by Birmingham as a replacement for New Zealander Jake Turner in a teenage reserve pairing which sees him line up alongside 16-year-old Trigger.

Trigger showed that he is no slouch from the gate when he visited Shielfield as part of Mildenhall’s National Development League side a couple of weeks ago.

Kent Royals’ Ben Morley, a Coliseum specialist, replaced ex-Bandit Paul Starke as Plymouth shuffled their pack to try to find the winning formula, while Dan Gilkes has made a steady return from the serious injuries he suffered at Scunthorpe last year.

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But the Bandits travel in the knowledge that they have a number of riders with impressive records on the tight bends of the Coliseum.

Thomas Jorgensen exploded onto the British scene in 2010 when, as an 18-year-old member of the touring Team Viking, he became the first rider to break the 50-second mark on his way to setting a track record, attracting British promoters in the process.

“Plymouth couldn’t be any more different from Shielfield Park,” Courtney admitted.

“It is a highly technical track and most of the races are won or lost from the gate and around the first two bends.

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“While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is a must-win match, it is no secret that in all likelihood the sixth play-off position will go to whoever among us, Plymouth, Birmingham and Edinburgh takes the most points from our ‘mini-league’.

“Losing at Birmingham was disappointing but at least we gave ourselves a good opportunity to collect the aggregate bonus point. At the very least, we have to do that again on Tuesday.

“Once that meeting is done and dusted we can start thinking about the following night at Oxford.”

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