Armadale Stadium is set to be bursting at the seams as Edinburgh Monarchs attempt to overturn an eight-point deficit against Somerset Rebels in the deciding leg of their KO Cup semi-final tonight.
The Rebels’ recent league visit produced a match of outstanding quality and home supporters are salivating at the prospect of another high-voltage encounter which isn’t going to be for the faint-hearted.
Monarchs are bidding to reach the final for the first time since 1999, and feel they have a fighting chance of getting through after a real backs-to-the-wall display at the Oak Tree Arena on Tuesday.
Monarchs’ gutsiness in keeping the Rebels in check minus both Claus Vissing and Josh Bates surprised even the most seasoned of followers, some of whom had predicted a real thumping for the Capital squad.
Monarchs’ team manager on the night, John Campbell, said: “It just goes to show that nobody can underestimate this team – they battle and fight for everything, and this semi-final is wide open and could go down to the very last heat.”
Monarchs, in fact, might have left Somerset with an outright victory, but an uncharacteristic last place by No. 1 Craig Cook in the first race and the impossible task he faced in the heat 15 finale when he was off the unkind gate one position, and could only manage to finish third, dented that dream.
Not that anyone would dare blame Cook for those blips, however the rider himself, who scored ten points, was most unhappy with his performance and commented: “That definitely did not go as planned. Getting ten points was unacceptable, but at least we still have a great chance of making the final. Eight points is not an impossible deficit to pull back, we just need to make sure we are all on top of our game. It’s going to be tight, but I honestly think we will do it.”
With no tactical rides permitted in the cup, Monarchs can’t afford to squander any needless points – a habit they sometimes have been unable to shake off at home this season.
If anyone has the nous to turn this tie in Monarchs’ favour, it’s young Aussie Max Fricke. His recent guest forays into the Elite League have toughened him up a bit more and his nine points in the first leg was a pivotal contribution, which could not be said of everybody.
Fricke, who has been working overtime to get his machinery back in shape after he bent his bike in a heat eight tumble on Tuesday, is optimistic that Monarchs can quell their English rivals.
He said: “I think we can, but we are going to have to work really hard to do it – it would have been ideal had the scores been a bit closer, but that wasn’t to be. We know what we need to do and we know what a great team Somerset are – let’s just hope everything works out for us.”
Somerset axed their two reserves, Stefan Nielsen and Simon Lambert, in the wake of their 49-41 first leg win, team manager Garry May bringing in former Monarch Charles Wright and Lewis Rose as replacements. Wright has been in blinding form for Buxton in the National League, and his signing looks a shrewd one.
May explained: “Our recent Premier League northern tour highlighted the fact that we were not scoring enough points at reserve away from home and that could be crucial when we get to the play-offs, because if the reserves are not scoring it puts additional pressure on our top five, and especially our top three.
“I think Charles, who knows Edinburgh well, will give us that extra bit of scoring power we need.”
On the prospects of holding on to their slim lead, May added: “It was a proper cup tie on Tuesday – it had everything. Of course, we would have preferred a bigger lead to defend – but you always want more than you actually end up with.
“We have a decent away record and scored 41 on our recent visit to Edinburgh, so there is still everything to play for.”
Vissing is expected to line-up for Monarchs who will use a guest stand in place of Josh Bates at reserve.