PREVIEW Saturday 19th June 2021, 11:43am
Far from making excuses for the Devils' slow start to their comeback campaign, maintaining any degree of momentum with meetings so stop-start, and often, expansively spread out cannot be easy.
Such is the nature of a National Development League consisting of eight teams battling to grab what consistency they can across just 14 fixtures. Of course, these are circumstances that apply to everyone. It could be said, in fact, that what might class as a "busy" spell for Armadale has already gone, with more than a third of their meetings fulfilled before the beginning of July (only runaway leaders Berwick have been more active). And with only three points picked up from their five outings, the Devils' opening sequence could have gone better. As it is though, they languish near the bottom of the table, trailed only by once-out Kent and Mildenhall who have yet to rev an engine.
So, in the race for excuses, Armadale have a lot less claim than some of their rivals.
One rider who shouldn't suffer through inactivity or an interrupted programme is Nathan Greaves who has, it appears, benefitted greatly from doubling up in the Championship with parent club Edinburgh. With a current CMA of 9.60, the skipper is on fire at the moment.
What then, we must ask, is Tom Woolley's secret? With his average a fraction over one less than Nathan's, the Burton-on-Trent lad is certainly busy in one respect – busy proving himself a real find for Alan Budzynsky's side.
For Danny Phillips and George Rothery, the key to success will be consistency. As our third heat-leader, Danny has delivered a decent return so far and although he has just once managed double-figures, it was courtesy of a top-scoring 11 at Newcastle on an otherwise barren afternoon.
Since bursting on to the scene with an astonishing 38 point haul from reserve over his opening three (top-scoring) outings, George's fortunes have taken a dive somewhat with a hairy series of spills that is bound to have dented that early aplomb significantly. As we've seen though, not much phases G.R., and I'm sure Saturday's clash with Belle Vue can't come quick enough for Scottish speedway's latest cult hero.
The lean times, in relative times, shared by Armadale's three remaining youngsters, Sheldon Davies and the Millar brothers, Gregor and Lewis, should, in an ideal world, give way to better days ahead. All three have shown glimpses, albeit fleetingly, of their true potential, and with the dust beginning to settle on the season's dawning, the coming months offer each of them the opportunity to up the ante, both individually and also towards a more unified effort across the whole team.
Collectively, Armadale's results haven't been as disastrous as their league position suggests, despite four of the five being defeats. All three away meetings have been against tough opposition yet only once (Newcastle) were we beaten by a margin greater than ten points. So, I would argue there is light at the end of the tunnel – a light that will hopefully increase in intensity as the season progresses.
On the subject of tough opposition, Saturday's visitors to West Lothian, the Belle Vue Colts, certainly fall into that category. However, with a win (home) and a defeat (away) from there two matches to date, predicting a likely outcome to their season overall might be premature.
The loss of Jordan Palin and Kyle Bickley from 2020's proposed line-up must have been a daunting blow for the Colts' management team of Graham Goodwin and Steve Williams but they have managed to rebuild an intriguing blend of familiar and up and coming names.
Remarkably, three of those names return to speedway after long periods away from the sport. As a teenager, the sky appeared to be the limit for Jack Parkinson-Blackburn before serious injury and a life-threatening road accident in 2018 halted his career in its tracks. Still only 20 though, he has battled back to full fitness and starts at No.1 with many predicting a strong season for the Yorkshireman.
Spanish-born Benji Compton is another with a sizeable gap in his speedway C.V. He's back though, and at 34, his experience riding for the likes of Scunthorpe, Sheffield and Redcar, not to mention a stint in Poland, will help the younger members of the Colts' squad.
Paul Bowen sat out the 2019 after joining Belle Vue II the previous year. The 32-year old will make up the team's middle order with Ben Woodhull who doesn't turn 20 until November. Apart from a brief spell with Buxton, Ben has been a Colt since entering the National League in 2017. A great deal of expectation lies on the Chorley-born rider's shoulders with those in charge at the NSS predicting 2021 as his breakthrough year.
One rider familiar to Edinburgh Monarchs fans is 26-year-old Connor Coles, who spent part of 2019 at the Lothian Arena. Son of former Belle Vue Ace Michael Cole, Connor will form the team's heat-leading trio with Parkinson-Blackburn and Compton.
Like with Armadale and Leicester, Belle Vue's reserve berths will be populated by brothers. Less than two years separate Bradford-born Harry McGurk and younger sibling Sam with the latter celebrating his 15th birthday not long ago. In Spite of their age, both are among the country's best and most keenly sought after fledgling talents. Unfortunately, Sam misses out on Saturday through injury and will be replaced by the unattached Sam Woolley, brother of Tom.
A well-balanced septet by the looks of it although emulating the successes of the likes of Dan Bewley, Kyle Bickley, Jordan Palin and Ben Woodhull's twin brother Luke, who have all worn the Colts' race jacket before them, won't be easy.