Defiant Edinburgh Monarchs boss John Campbell today insisted his side “definitely still have a chance” of reaching speedway’s Knockout Cup final despite last night’s 55-35 semi-final first-leg defeat at the hands of Ipswich Witches at Foxhall Heath Stadium.
Monarchs face a formidable test in the second leg at Armadale a week tonight, but Campbell believes, if they can steer clear of further injuries, they are well capable of wiping out their 20-point deficit. Monarchs went into the clash without No 1 Craig Cook, who damaged his ribs in his comeback meeting at Scunthope last weekend, and, to compound matters, reserve Jozsef Tabaka, who also returned to the saddle in the same match after a broken hand, tumbled off against Witches and had to be replaced by his fellow tail-ender Byron Bekker in his final outing.
Tabaka will return to take his place against Scunthorpe in the Premier League play-offs at the Lothian Arena this evening. Campbell said: “Once again injuries have wrecked things for us but I’d like to think we will be at full strength for the second leg, and if we are, we will do very well.
“If Craig is back, and I’m hopeful he will be, and if Jozsef is fit for the job, we’ll be able to track a team as good as we’ve had throughout the season.” Tabaka had been tipped as the man to worry the Witches and the Hungarian’s failure to score was something of a hammer blow. “I think we had expected that Jozsef could have potentially taken seven rides and might have scored anything between 10 and 20 points,” said Campbell. “To take just three rides and score nothing was a big turnaround.
“But we definitely need some good luck which we don’t seem to get nowadays and if we get a match where we start and finish with the same team, then we’ll be okay. We are not out of the cup by any means, we have a great chance of still getting to the final.”
Monarchs got off to the worst possible start when they surrendered a 5-1 in the first race, guest rider Corey Gathercole trailing at the back, but the Plymouth Devils star improved after that setback and finished on seven points. Campbell said: “He was first class and got involved with the whole team and tried very hard. We lost a 5-1 in the last race and perhaps I should have put Corey out in that one but I decided not to.”
In spite of a run of shared heats, the Witches proved extremely assertive round their own den, and Monarchs only managed to pull off one heat advantage when they conjured up a 4-2 advantage courtesy of Gathercole and Andrew Tully in heat 13. Monarchs still trailed 46-32 at that stage and with the Witches grabbing nine ponts from the final two heats, Monarchs’ hopes of running them close disappeared into a cauldron.
Ironically, on a night when their under-fire pair of skipper Matthew Wethers and Tully briefly rediscovered their scoring touch, the latter winning heat six in the quickest time of the night, it was the normally reliable Theo Pijper who endured something of a nightmare. The Dutchman had three zeroes in a row before he collected his only points of the match by clincing second place in heat 12.
Campbell said: “It was Theo’s worst meeting of the season so far, he just couldn’t turn on the corners. The track proved to be heavy going and he couldn’t handle it. But I was pleased with Matthew – he was much better, but Andrew’s form remains up and down. If he could make five starts he’d win five races, but he doesn’t do that and that’s the difference.”
Bekker who is deservedly picking up regular bookings to cover for the absent Marcel Helfer, once again could not be faulted for his endeavour. The South African rider garnered five points, winning his first outing. He said: “It was quite a tough match, I had guested for Ipswich two weeks ago and that was the first time I’d seen the place, but I thought I’d be able to score a few points this time which I managed to do. My gating is slowly getting better and I was happy with the way I rode. Even the last places I got, I wasn’t far off the pace.
“I think Edinburgh have got a good chance of getting through, from what I can gather, none of the Ipswich guys like riding at Armadale, and they will be under a bit pressure to defend their lead.”
Ipswich’s star performer was Dakota North who piled up 14 points from his five starts, but, according to unconfirmed reports, he will miss the second leg due to an overseas engagement.
Monarchs director Mike Hunter said: “I’m very optimistic of our chances in the second leg especially if we have our full team out. Ipswich may think they are in a strong position, but let’s not forget how we defeated Newcastle Diamonds 64-29 at home not so long ago, and they are the best team in the league. It’s not over by any manner of means.”
Ipswich: North 14, Lanham 9, Tresarrieu 9, Tungate 8, Risager 8, Nielsen 5, Poole 2.
Monarchs: Wethers 9, Tully 9, Gathercole 7, Bekker 5, Sneddon 3, Pijper 2.