Edinburgh MONARCHS toiled and their League Cup hopes could be in trouble after they scrambled a slender 48-42 semi-final first-leg victory over a stubborn Ipswich Witches side at Armadale last night.
On a track more grippy than in previous weeks, some of the Monarchs squad looked distinctly ill at ease on the surface, which was reflected in the fact that the Capital outfit failed to win enough races to put the frighteners on their visitors, who stuck to Monarchs like glue.
After Craig Cook trailed in last in the opening heat, some people must have thought the Witches had cast some sort of spell on the Monarchs No. 1, who disproved that theory by winning three of his next four outings, which included setting a new track record of 53.05 in heat 10.
Cook said: “I had the wrong set-up for my first race and was caught out a little because the track was a lot grippier that it has been. I then reverted to a set-up which I had not used for Armadale before and went out and broke the track record.
“But this was a very tough meeting for everybody, as we knew it would be. At least we won our home leg and it will be up to Ipswich to break us down in the deciding tie later in the month. I think we will be ready for them.”
Monarchs only led 26-22 at the half-way stage and were then pulled back when the Witches grabbed a 5-1 courtesy of Rohan Tungate and star reserve performer Adam Ellis in heat 12 and this tied the scores a 36-36 apiece.
Monarchs, however, hit back straight away in the next race with maximum points from Cook and Claus Vissing, but the heat proved to be a disaster for Witches No. 1 Ben Barker who ran out of track and smashed into the safety fence on the first bend. The Cornishman was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg.
Monarchs, after sharing the penultimate race, salvaged a 4-2 from Cook and Vissing in the heat 15 finale to keep their cup hopes alive, but only just.
Skipper Derek Sneddon, who won his opening ride against Barker and Cameron Heeps, said: “We knew this was going to be a very tough match and that’s exactly how it turned out.
“Six points may not sound like a like but the way things paned out we are just happy with any victory.”
Team-mate Jozsef Tabaka looked all at sea on a bike that at times appeared to run away from him. The likeable Hungarian, who claimed a sole win in his third race, revealed: “I tried to change my ignition to give me more power, but it didn’t work and I had to revert back to what I started the meeting with. I should have scored more for the team, but I found conditions a bit tricky, as did a few others.
Dane Vissing had to wait until late on before posting his only victory of the match and reflected: “It was tough going out there, there were no easy races and Ipswich made us fight and battle all the way, but at least we have a lead to take down there and that’s the important thing.”
After asking for the track to be more grippy a lot of the Monarchs squad were far from satisfied with the surface presented to them, especially Dutch ace Theo Pijper, who after scoring seven point from his four outings declared: “I struggled a bit out there because the track was grippy, but every time I made a good start from the tapes I got pulled back for some strange reason.
“Most of the team looked uncomfortable and we need to have a talk with the promotion about how the track should be. I know we asked for more dirt to be put down, but it was too grippy, and in all the wrong places.
“I think we need to keep the track the way it used to be. But Ipswich are a very good team and they won at Workington recently which no one else has done so far this season.
“They were out of the gate pretty quickly, but that is something we can also do, but we need to be firing on all cylinders and do consistently, and we didn’t do that on this occasion and it showed.
“But believe me we will be an improved side against Glasgow Tigers at Ashfield tomorrow. And we are not out of the League Cup by any means – we are capable of winning down there.”
Monarchs stand-in reserve James Sarjeant tried his utmost, but only picked up one point and he wasn’t helped when he was rashly brought down by Witches tail-ender Ritchie Hawkins in his first outing in heat two.
Witches undoubted bonus was the eleven points produced by Ellis, who had failed to score at Redcar just 24 hours earlier. Max Fricke couldn’t even hang on to tails, yet the Monarchs teenager still managed nine points from his five starts and continues to progress apace.
Aside from Ellis Witches next top scorer was Morten Risager with ten points.
The pendulum may have swung in Ipswich’s favour, but this semi-final contest is a long way from being over.
Monarchs: Cook 11, Vissing 10, Fricke 9, Pijper 7, Tabaka 5, Sneddon 5, Sarjeant 1.
Ipswich: Ellis 11, Risager 10, Barker 8, Tungate 6, Lanham 4, Heeps 3, Hawkins 0.