Without Erik Riss and Max Clegg, who were on World Under-21 duty, Edinburgh Monarchs simply did not have enough in their tank to compensate for their absence and slipped to a 52-41 Premier League speedway defeat at Plymouth Devils on Saturday.
However, Monarchs co-boss John Campbell insists his side still have a fighting chance of making the end-of-season play-offs, providing they do not slip up at Armadale.
Campbell confessed he knew it would be difficult to unseat the Devils, who haven’t lost in the league at their St Boniface venue this season. And with guest replacements Michael Palm Toft and Luke Chessell garnering just three points between them, Monarchs always faced an uphill struggle
Campbell said: “The team we had did well but if we had our full team we would have done even better.
“Palm Toft was bitterly disappointed with his performance and while you cannot fault his commitment, he didn’t get to the front in any of the races, and Chessell was not in contention either.”
Monarchs managed just two heat advantages over the course of the meeting, but were extremely unlucky in heat 15 when skipper Sam Masters and Kevin Wolbert were on a 5-1 until Masters chain came adrift, causing him to fall and be excluded from the race.
Monarchs, who were nine points in arrears, had to settle for a 3-3 instead and that cost them a precious away point.
The Capital outfit toiled in the early stages and trailed 31-17 after eight heats. This prompted Monarchs to hand Wolbert a double points tactical ride in heat nine, which the German duly won in fine style and with Chessell claiming third spot, Monarchs grabbed a big 7-2 advantage, slashing the Devils lead to nine points at 33-24.
But after swapping 5-1s with their hosts in heats 13 and 14, Monarchs were unable to puncture the Devils’ superiority on a track where fast starting was absolutely paramount.
Campbell said: “I knew it would take an exceptional performance from Palm Toft to do as well as Erik did on his last visit and I did not really expect him to do as well, and I’m afraid to say that Chessell, a National League rider, wasn’t up to the job at reserve and that is not a slight against him.”
Campbell continued: “Erik and Max proved too big a miss for us and so it was not an entirely unexpected defeat against a Devils team who are very secure round their super-slick track.”
This loss means Monarchs have slipped back to tenth spot in the table having caught up with their matches in hand and without doubt the defending league champions are now facing a challenging few months to enter the top six, which guarantees their play-off berth and the opportunity to win a third championship crown in a row.
Campbell remains optimistic, saying: “We only need three or four more points away from home to get into a play-off position, providing of course we keep winning at home, which is critical.
“And right up until our final away fixture we still have a chance, especially as I believe Mark Riss, who picked up one point, will start scoring more points for us imminently. He was deserving of many more than that on Saturday and if he had made four good starts he would have got double figures.
“At Plymouth you either have to be in front at the first turn or you have got to be in position to pass people down the back straight on the first lap. And if you don’t do either of these things you have no chance, but these are things that Mark will learn over time.”
Monarchs’ top performers were Wolbert and Masters. Wolbert amassed 16 points from his five starts, while Masters collected 11 despite his last race misfortune.
Plymouth had three riders who posted double figures and their all-round strength in depth went largely unchallenged.
Plymouth: B. Kurtz 11, Newman 11, Nielsen 11, T. Kurtz 8 ,Simota 8, Perks 3.
Monarchs: Wolbert 16, Masters 11, Fisher 7, Bewley 3, Chessell 2, Riss 1, Palm Toft 1.