Edinburgh Monarchs speedway gaffer John Campbell insisted it’s still very much “game on” as his side bid to reach the Premier League Knockout Cup final despite going down 49-41 in the first leg of their tough semi-final against Somerset Rebels at the Oak Tree Arena last night.
In a rollercoaster match, Monarchs clawed their way back in the second half and were only four points in arrears after captain Derek Sneddon, who was suffering from a bout of food poisoning, and partner Jozsef Tabaka grabbed a priceless 5-1 in heat 14 after Rebels ace Stefan Nielsen fell off.
And with Craig Cook to come in the final race, hopes were high that Monarchs would not face anything more than a four-point deficit to pull back in Friday’s deciding tie at Armadale.
However, the Monarchs No. 1 was off the graveyard gate one mark and could make no impression on Rebels skipper Jason Doyle and team-mate Josh Grajczonek who swooped to take maximum points and certainly takes some of the heat off Somerset who will perhaps feel a bit more relaxed than they did with one race remaining.
Monarchs went into the meeting without Claus Vissing and Josh Bates, who were advised not to ride on medical grounds following their spills against Rye House Rockets last week.
Vissing hopes to make the second leg, but Bates is definitely out, and will also miss the league trip to Leicester on Saturday after he was called back to hospital where it was confirmed he has chipped a bone in his wrist.
Yet despite this setback Campbell was full of praise at the way Monarchs clung to Somerset like leeches, and said: “Under the circumstances we did exceptionally well, it was just unfortunate that Craig had the most awful gate position in heat 15 which allowed Somerset to score that 5-1. But I always believed if we held them to anything less than ten points we have a chance of going through, and we definitely have a chance. It’s game on, there is no clear favourite in this semi-final.”
Campbell added: “It was a foregone conclusion that we would lose a 5-1 in that last race, it was mission impossible for Craig. The vast majority of the races were won from gate four, so it was no surprise that Somerset chose the gate two and four spots.
“We won the toss before the match and picked gate positions one and three, it might have been better in retrospect had we lost the toss.”
Monarchs got off to the worst possible start when Cook trailed in last in the opening race, but Campbell feels Cook and Sneddon can put Monarchs in pole position in two days’ time.
He said: “Derek will be feeling a lot better by then and will dominate the reserves races, and Craig, I’m hoping, will dominate the whole match, and that should give us a big advantage I think. But just as we pushed Somerset all the way, they’ll do the same to us, because we are the top two teams in the country right now.”
Young Max Fricke, who scored 11 points for Belle Vue Aces in the Elite League on Monday, weighed in with nine points, a remarkable score bearing in mind he suffered a heavy tumble in his third outing in the eighth race.
He said: “It was a very tough match, we knew it would be, and while we would have liked the scores to have been a bit closer, we will just have to work really hard on Friday.
“The track was a little slick and I came down pretty hard in my third ride and bent my bike which wasn’t good. So to score nine points under these circumstance was pretty good.
“Gate positions were so critical but Craig rode his heart out in heat 15. We still have a good chance of making the final.”
Doyle was Somerset’s top scorer with 14 points, his only defeat coming at the hands of Cook in heat 13.
Somerset: Doyle 14, Grajczonek 10, Newman 7, Morris 7, Davies 4, Nielsen 4, Lambert 3.
Monarchs: Cook 10, Fricke 9, Sneddon 9, Pijper 7, Tabaka 5, Morley 1.