Edinburgh Monarchs say this weekend is “critical” for them as they make a final push to finish at the top of the Premier League speedway table – which would give them first pick of their play-off group opponents after the cut-off deadline expires at midnight on Sunday.
Crucially, favourable weather is forecast for their big double-header against Redcar Bears and Glasgow Tigers at Armadale tonight, with conditions also looking good for tomorrow night’s clash against Newcastle Diamonds and their trip to Glasgow Tigers on Sunday.
A total of 13 league points are on the table for Monarchs, but they only require ten to muscle leaders Somerset Rebels off the summit.
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess insisted that despite surrendering pole position to Somerset, due in part to a lack of meetings in August, he is optimistic that the Capital side will regain control over the next 72 hours – just when it matters most. Harkess, however, admits to feeling twitchy about the staging of the double header, saying: “It brings its own set of challenges, because so many things can go wrong other than losing a race.
“None of us wanted it out of choice – it was done out of necessity to let us catch up on our fixtures before the cut-off date. If anything goes wrong in the first match (Redcar), then things could go out of control.
“We just hope everything runs smoothly, with no hiccups or accidents.”
He added: “Our main priority is to make sure we gain all points at home this evening and tomorrow, then we can sit back and think about our visit to Glasgow.”
If anyone doubted that Monarchs had lost some of the sparkle which propelled them to an unbeaten run of 24 matches on the bounce early in the season, it was laid to rest at Rye House Rockets at the weekend when they pulled off an astonishing 59-36 victory, losing just one heat over the course of the contest, which in itself was remarkable away from home.
“We have said it all along, this team of ours is very good, everybody knows that and nothing surprises me in terms of what they are all capable of,” said Harkess.
“If you look at the individual scores from the Rye House match, it was clear they all did their job superbly well. But that is what they do, and have done for much of the season.”
There may be a degree of truth that the trio of meetings which fell victim to the rain last month knocked Monarchs out of their collective stride a little and allowed Somerset a clear run to the top of the table.
But Harkess pointed out: “Had we not suffered those washouts I’m sure we would have completed our full league programme before Sunday and we would have been sitting top at this moment and not Somerset.
“That is why we have to cram four meetings into three days to catch up, and it is not ideal by any means. And we will still have two outstanding away fixtures to complete after the cut-off date, which is a bit annoying as we have made every effort to run all our home meetings.”
Asked if there was an over emphasis on getting first choice of rivals in the play-off groups, Harkess replied: “I’m not convinced it matters that much to be honest. If you want to win the league you will have to beat the other teams in the two sections anyway.
“The only advantage in getting first pick is in terms of travelling distance. The team we don’t want in our group is Somerset because they are a Friday night track and this can create problems. I’d be happy if Somerset and Ipswich ended up in the same group.”
Speculation that Monarchs would plump for Berwick Bandits as their first choice if they get the chance was played down by Harkess.
“I don’t know, Berwick are only one of three teams who have beaten us this year, and I’m sure Somerset, who also lost there, won’t be keen to go back either; it’s not exactly next door for them either.”
Monarchs go into their four matches buoyed by the seeming return to form of No.1 Craig Cook, who was imperious at Rye House as he stormed to a paid 18-point maximum from his six rides.
And the Cumbrian star also did well for his Elite League side Belle Vue Aces, picking up 12 points in their win over Leicester on Monday. “Craig was in a class of his own at Rye House,” said Harkess. “Long may it continue.”
Team-mate Max Fricke, who picked up nine points against the Rockets, added: “It was such a fantastic win for the whole team and we are all fired up for this weekend. We believe we can pick up all the league points available to us. It is going to be hectic, especially this evening, but everybody in the camp is feeling good.”
The Monarchs supporters’ bus will leave Waterloo Place at 5.45pm on Friday and Saturday.