The huge lead that Edinburgh Monarchs had built at the top of the Premier League has narrowed dramatically in the last few days.
Ominously for the capital speedway outfit, Somerset Rebels, their conquerors in the championship Grand Final a year ago, are just three points behind in second spot.
Monarchs are keen to remain in pole position as it gives them first pick of opponents when the play-off groups are decided in September. But they have not ridden a league fixture for almost three weeks and their trip to Berwick Bandits tonight for a live Sky Sports TV clash is fraught with danger with the Borderers enjoying a stunning revival of fortune so far this season.
Berwick are in fourth position after an away win at Redcar Bears last Thursday, followed up by a convincing victory over Sheffield Tigers at home at the weekend, which should secure a top six spot to seal their play-off berth. Although some of the Bandits’ best performances have been on the road, they are stubborn performers around Shielfield Park. Monarchs were reminded of this during their 51-39 reverse in a KO Cup quarter-final first-leg tie there last month and were forced to admit that track conditions caught them out and the eventual scoreline could have been far more severe.
Berwick also made the tough decision a few days ago to “rest” reserve Liam Carr who has found life in the Premier League tough going. Team manager John Anderson has brought back Swede Alex Edberg, who rode for the Bandits in an injury interrupted campaign in 2013, as his replacement with the sole aim of bolstering their title bid.
Edberg picked up 11 points on his return against Redcar and Sheffield.
Monarchs’ second-string star Steve Worrall knows his side need to raise their game if they want to mug the Bandits, and is bullish about their prospects this time round. He told the Evening News: “I’m sure we will do much better tonight. The track was a little bit different last time compared to when we won there in the League Cup earlier in the year.
“I think we all got found out with our bike set-ups and also coming off the loss at Peterborough which ended our 24 match unbeaten run, maybe unsettled us a bit as well.
“With the TV cameras in attendance there is no doubt we need to try that bit harder.”
The biggest threat to Monarchs’ chances of victory could come from Edberg’s tail-end partner, Matej Kus, who rode like a superstar last time and left Monarchs’ reserve duo Derek Sneddon and Aaron Fox trailing in his wake.
Said Worrall: “He was fantastic that night and is continuing to score double figures. I’m not sure what difference Edberg is going to make. I have seen him ride a few times and he can blow hot and cold.
“But Kus will play a big part in determining whether Berwick win or lose and it is going to depend on what Derek and Aaron can do.”
Worrall hopes the Berwick track curators will produce a surface which will allow passing to prosper. “We were not good from the gate on that previous visit and the track being the way it was, you simply could not pass. And if you cannot make starts you are not going to win the race.
“The Berwick lads definitely gated better than us and that was the key difference. Although things did not go our way, you have to accept this happens from time to time.”
This is a big week for Monarchs who visit Somerset tomorrow and Sheffield on Thursday before facing Somerset 24 hours later at Armadale. If they are able to keep Somerset at bay during this period it will be a job very well done.