Edinburgh Monarchs have one foot in Grand Final

Heat 14 : Jozsef Tabaka and Derek Sneddon celebrate the 5_1 heat win. Picture: Ron MacNeill

Heat 14 : Jozsef Tabaka and Derek Sneddon celebrate the 5_1 heat win. Picture: Ron MacNeill

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Derek Sneddon was nicknamed “Captain Fantastic” at his recent Testimonial meeting and the Edinburgh Monarchs skipper certainly lived up to that moniker at Ipswich Witches last night as he led the Capital speedway outfit to the brink of their first Premier League play-off Grand Final.

Needing just one point to keep them snapping at the heels of Group B leaders Workington Comets, Monarchs pulled off a stunning 49-41 triumph to win all four points. They now require just a single point from tonight’s return fixture against the Witches at Armadale to go through and face the winners of Group A, where Somerset Rebels are the favourites to qualify, though no one would dare put their mortgage on that outcome given some of the results of late.

Sneddon, who has been lambasted for his dire run of poor form, underwent an amazing transformation and topped Monarchs’ scorechart with 16 points from his seven starts. He racked up the same tally at Sheffield Tigers earlier in the season – and Monarchs won on that occasion too.

He featured in two crucial races which turned the meeting in Monarchs’ favour. Leading 17-13 after five races, Ipswich clawed their way back and nosed 33-27 ahead after heat ten. But in the very next race, Sneddon and No. 1 Craig Cook extracted a brilliantly engineered 5-1 against Witches duo Morten Risager and Chris Schramm. Sneddon made a brilliant outside run to hit the front, while Cook then team-rode magnificently to keep Risager at the back, telegraphing his every move.

This cut Monarchs’ deficit to just two points and a 4-2 from Claus Vissing and Sneddon in heat 12 levelled the scores 36-36 apiece. It was still all square with two heats left before Jozsef Tabaka, who had some bike problems, and Sneddon swept to glory with a 5-1 in heat 14 which put Monarchs back in front by four points.

After his success in the previous race, Tabaka was chosen to partner Cook in the heat 15 top scorers’ finale, and didn’t the pair just go out and blow dirt in their rivals faces with another maximum heat advantage which secured all four meeting points and left Ipswich, who have had a torrid seven days in terms of injuries, totally deflated.

Sneddon, who failed to score in Monarchs’ league trip to Ipswich last month, was as bemused as anyone to explain his turnaround in fortune. “I don’t know how I did it, but I went in to the match determined to fight for every point and I couldn’t be happier with my score. But the whole team was up for this contest and the way we hung in for victory was fantastic.”

Cook was unbeaten by the opposition and his 14-point paid maximum simply underlined how majestic he has been in Monarchs colours so far this term. “We all knew what we had to do,” he said, “and we stuck to our tasks. To get all four points was superb and something of a bonus. We must of course ensure we don’t make any mistakes tonight. I’m so desperate to win the league. Now we have given ourselves a great chance.”

To defeat the Witches by eight race points is quite remarkable when you consider that Monarchs pair Max Fricke and Theo Pijper made little impression on their hosts. Fricke scored one, and Pijper managed three, but the Dutchman, in putting in a great effort to try and win heat 13, ploughed into the fence, but was only winded despite taking out a couple of fence boards. Said Pijper: “I’m okay, but I damaged my bike. I should be fine to ride this evening. I just didn’t get going at all, but despite that, what a great result for the team.”

Dane Claus Vissing also deserves a mention. After floundering in his opening ride, he got better as the match wore on and won his last ride in terrific style. Asked why he, like Sneddon, has seen his contributions wane a little, Vissing replied: “I have now found out what the problem is – it’s me!”

Monarchs director Mike Hunter admitted he did not expect his side to claim the full compliment of points, saying: “I would have happily settled for a point, but now we can afford to lose by 13 or 14 points at home tonight, and still go through.

“Obviously we don’t want that to happen and we would like to finish the job off in style, but we need to start well and make sure there is not the slightest chance of anything going wrong.”

Ipswich: Heeps 12, Risager 11, Bach 9, Klindt 4, Hawkins 3, Schramm 2.

Monarchs: Sneddon 16, Cook 14, Tabaka 8, Vissing 6, Pijper 3, Fricke 1, Carr 1.