You can only describe it as a spellbinding performance, as Edinburgh Monarchs pulled off an emphatic 53-37 Knockout Cup first-leg victory at Ipswich Witches last night to make virtually certain of holding aloft the silverware, in front of what should be a bumper home crowd in the deciding tie at Armadale tonight.
Monarchs romped to their 20th unbeaten match in a row against an Ipswich squad who have only lost once at Foxhall Heath this season.
Monarchs went into the meeting without Stevie Worrall, who is due to become a father for the first time at the end of the month. However, he is at partner Annabelle’s side after she went into labour early yesterday. Not that Monarchs had to push too hard for their triumph in his absence.
After an opening 5-1 from Craig Cook and Justin Sedgmen in heat one, which Cook won in a new track record time of 56.03, the Capital side quickly established a ten-point lead of 26-16 after seven races. With some of their supporters becoming restless, the Witches raised their hopes momentarily with two 5-1 advantages in heats 8 and 10 respectively, which cut Monarchs’ lead to just two points
However, Monarchs responded with two 5-1 wins of their own in the 12th and 13th races to extinguish the slim hopes their hosts may have harboured.
A final race 5-1 by Cook and Masters was simply the icing on the cake.
Cook who powered his way to a 15-point maximum, and Masters, who was also unbeaten, were simply immense, underlining their credentials as probably the best duo in the Premier League.
Ipswich lost the services of their American star Gino Manzares after two rides, after appearing to aggravate a shoulder injury he suffered in a heavy fall at Somerset last week.
But with Monarchs gaining just five points from the rider replacement facility which they utilised to cover for Worrall, they certainly couldn’t be accused of profiting from Manzares’ misfortune.
Monarchs’ co-promoter John Campbell, who will now surely realise his dream of bringing back the Knockout Cup to Armadale for the first time in over a decade, said: “Because Ipswich have been going so well recently, I believed if we lost by no more than eight points, I would have been happy with that situation.
“I had hoped Sam and Craig would do exceptionally well which they did. Max (Fricke) wasn’t far behind and Justin (Sedgmen) had an absolutely fantastic start to the meeting, and our dominance got into the Witches’ heads early on.
“Even when we saw our lead pegged back there was no panic. I thought we might get a 5-1 from Craig and Justin in heat 11, but Justin had to fight from the back for third place. But heats 13 and 15 were always going to be 5-1s for us, it was almost predictable.”
Ipswich’s fans streamed out of the stadium in droves after the penultimate race, and Campbell, who was criticised by Peterborough last week for writing them off in the League Cup, cautiously admitted: “It would be an amazing situation if Ipswich come to Armadale tonight at this late stage in the year and do something nobody else has done, and that is to beat us at home. It will be almost impossible for them.”
On his zeal to win the KO Cup again, Campbell added: “It would be wrong to say I don’t want to win the league title because that is the major competition we all want to win, but I have always felt we have had good Monarchs teams in the past to win the KO Cup but things have occurred to prevent that happening.
“Hopefully nothing is going to stop us doing it this year.”
Four race wins for Fricke, who hauled in 13 points from five rides, was a big contribution from the teenager, who said: “I made some decent starts, which was good.
“Ipswich is a track I have not scored that well at in the past, so to get double figures was very good for me.
“It was a great effort from everyone and even though Ipswich hauled us back a bit, we kicked on again.
“It wasn’t a shock we won – we know that we are good. Now we just want to win the cup in style in front of our fans.
“To potentially pick up two national trophies in the space of a week is amazing and pretty cool. I don’t know if any other team has done that.”
Fellow Aussie Masters commented: “Fantastic night for all the boys. I had a really good meeting and rode well, as we all did, and we are all looking forward to the second leg tonight. Can’t take it too easy though – speedway can be a funny game!”
Skipper Derek Sneddon could be a doubt after coming down heavily in his last race. Campbell revealed: “Derek hurt his hip and was hobbling around afterwards. Hopefully it will wear off and he will race tonight for us.”
Ipswich: Ellis 9, Heeps 8, Hawkins 7, Tungate 5, Risager 5, R Worrall 3, Manzares 0.
Monarchs: Cook 15, Masters 13, Fricke 13, Sedgmen 8, Fox 3, Sneddon 1.