Newcastle Diamonds travel to Sheffield Tigers tonight for the first leg of the League Cup semi-final with the deciding leg at Brough Park on Sunday evening.
While the Sapphire Engineering-backed Diamonds arrive at the Owlerton Stadium at full strength, Sheffield have booked classy Cumbrian racer Richard Lawson to cover for injured skipper Simon Stead in both clubs’ biggest meeting of the season, with a 7.45pm tapes-up.
Lawson has been in fine form for Premier League rivals Workington this season and Tigers’ owner Neil Machin knows his side will need to make a good start. He said: “We have to be on top form from the first race on tonight, as Newcastle are packed with talented riders from top to bottom and we know how tough it will be.
“It’s all about taking a handy lead to Newcastle for us to defend in the return on Sunday. We are desperate to reach the League Cup Final.”
Stead has had surgery on his badly broken leg which he sustained in a disastrous practice session crash at King’s Lynn last week and is expected to be out for a minimum of eight weeks.
He is facing a race against time to be back in action for the prestigious Premier League Riders’ Championship at Owlerton in September.
Newcastle boss George English agrees a good performance tonight could be key, saying: “Both sides tonight will be gunning for a good score to take into the second leg on Sunday in order to make the national final later in the season. But with the Tigers booking Lawson for Stead, it certainly doesn’t weaken them in any form. Our lads can do well at the big open track down there, and we can only hope they all turn on their best form to at least keep Sheffield within spitting distance if not reach out for a draw or even a win – possible despite their reputation on their own shale.”
Newcastle then move east to Scunthorpe Scorpions tomorrow night for a Premier League match before having Saturday off.
SHEFFIELD TIGERS: Richard Lawson (guest), Richard Hall, Ricky Wells, Joe Haines, Damian Koppe, Facundo Albin, Adam Roynon
NEWCASTLE DIAMONDS: Stuart Robson (captain), Christian Henry, Andrew Tully, Ludvig Lindgren, Richie Worrall, Chris Schramm, Lewis Kerr