A SPELLBINDING display from Edinburgh Monarchs at Armadale last night saw them destroy Premier League leaders Ipswich Witches 59-36 to move within one point of the Suffolk outfit at the top of the table.
It was a resounding triumph for a Monarchs squad who were under considerable pressure to rediscover their spark in the wake of some ropey performances of late which removed the cloak of invincibility they had worn with some distinction earlier in the season.
But it’s important that Monarchs now drive on ahead of the play-offs, and certainly this demolition of Ipswich will leave their main rivals in no doubt that they are very much back in the hunt for a fourth championship crown.
Craig Cook, who has been poorly with a viral infection this week, typically roared back with a fevered exhibition of speedway to notch up a brilliant 15 point maximum – and his opening heat win over Ipswich No 1 Ben Barker set the template for the whole meeting.
Barker passed Cook on the back straight and it took the Monarchs ace a couple of laps to get him back in his sights before orchestrating a last bend show of skill and power to overhaul his bitter rival as he stormed over the finishing line to thunderous acclaim.
Said Cook: “I knew I had him beaten because Ben was riding too tight a line. I made a good cut inside and got my wheels in line and across the dirt while he was still trying to turn, I had too much speed for him.
“It took me two laps to get him, but in the end I stuck it to him, and I felt so good about that.”
Cook has been very vocal in feeling Monarchs had slipped off the boil but he was fulsome in his praise of the way everybody rode and did the job they were supposed to do.
“It would have been nice had we scored 60,” he said. “It was just a bit unfortunate that Max [Fricke] came off in heat 14, that point would have done it. But Max did a brilliant job and so did the rest of the team, and I’m over the moon. It’s what we needed to do because we have been off form recently.
“Having Max back at reserve again, he could be a key guy for us in the coming weeks, and if we can keep him at reserve until the end of the season then I think we will win the league.”
Ipswich were 12 points down after just four races and Cook added: “That forced them into using their tactical rides early doors, but we attacked them hard right from the off and never really allowed them to get into the match at all. I can’t say how happy I am with how things worked out.”
Fricke made an astonishing comeback from injury and was unbeaten by any Ipswich rider after completing his first four rides, but his mishap in heat 14 ruined his paid maximum hopes.
He said: “I hit a bit of a hole on the fourth bend and my foot came off my bike. I should have been paying more attention instead of thinking too far ahead.”
Fricke’s recent foray into the Elite League has toughened him up and the nudge he gave Cameron Heeps, who tried to pass him in heat eight, was a clear indication that the Monarchs starlet is no pushover.
“It was fair,” added Fricke. “In its own way, I was just so pleased to have scored eight points on my return because Ipswich are a very good team.”
The only Monarch whose score flattered him was Claus Vissing. The Dane picked up nine points in total but some of them were total gifts as both Rohan Tungate and Heeps fell off in two races respectively that Vissing was involved in. Vissing is a decent guy but he cannot ride Armadale – end of.
The Witches, in truth, were a shadow of their true selves and were basically a three-man team on the night. Their Danish rider, Morten Risager, one of just three Ipswich men to post a double figure return, admitted afterwards: “Our team just collapsed. From the very first race we seemed to struggle – we all seemed to be a bit down and none of us really performed. I had one decent win but that was it.
“Edinburgh hit us hard from the start and were obviously well up for the match. This was the first time this season we haven’t picked up at least a point away from home. But we’ll bounce back in the return on Thursday.
“I can actually see Edinburgh and Ipswich contest the play-off final for the league – and that would be interesting.”
Unluckiest Monarch was perhaps Theo Pijper, whose throttle cable came out in his second ride, which made it impossible for him to make any impression on Barker in the fifth race.
“I virtually had to hold the cable in while still riding,” said Pijper. “Somebody had forgotten to screw it in.”
• Monarchs: Cook 15, Pijper 11, Vissing 9, Fricke 8, Sneddon 6, Carr 5, Tabaka 5,
Ipswich: Barker 11, Risager 10, Lanham 10, Heeps 2, Jacobs 2, Ellis 1, Tungate 0.