Monarchs 49, Sheffield Tigers 44: Masters posts season’s fastest time

Top scorer Max Clegg extends his lead on Sheffield Tigers rider Rob Branford as he and Mark Riss won a vital 5-1 in heat 14
Top scorer Max Clegg extends his lead on Sheffield Tigers rider Rob Branford as he and Mark Riss won a vital 5-1 in heat 14
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Edinburgh Monarchs gained sweet revenge for their KO Cup exit on Thursday at the hands of Sheffield Tigers but were given the fright of their lives by a late Sheffield revival which placed Monarchs’ unbeaten home record under threat.

Monarchs eventually crawled over the line with a nervy Championship win over their Yorkshire rivals at Armadale tonight.

Monarchs promoter John Campbell said: “We were always in control and were never in any danger of losing, we were always going to win.”

Continuing a trend all season Sheffield were forced to make up their team with three guests, and even Monarchs used the rider replacement facility to cover for Josh Pickering who is on World Under-21 Team Cup duty in Germany.

Monarchs heat leaders had plenty to prove to their fans after winning just a handful of races between them in recent away matches. And it was important they didn’t fall prey to losing a 5-1 in the opening heat, especially with skipper Sam Masters regaining his No.1 spot. The Aussie duly did his duty, however, by giving Monarchs the start they needed with a 4-2 in the first race and, with partner Mark Riss claiming third spot, this gave them a springboard to build on. Masters, who made a lightning start, took the chequered flag in the fastest time of the season, 54.06.

Heat two was shared when Max Clegg took the honours but unfortunately his team-mate Mitchell Davey fell and remounted but trailed in last, another case of Monarchs throwing away precious points.

But Erik Riss and Clegg grabbed a 5-1 in the third race against Lasse Bjerre and James Sarjeant to give Monarchs an encouraging 12-6 lead and already the Tigers were suffering with the loss of three of their own personnel. This was underlined in the fourth heat when Ricky Wells and Davey scored Monarchs’ second 4-2 of the evening to stretch their lead to eight points, 16-8.

However, Glasgow captain Aaron Summers, who was guesting for Josh Grajczonek, stopped the rot by triumphing in heat five when defeating Erik Riss, who almost caught his rival on the line, and Clegg.

Kyle Howarth repeated the trick for the Tigers in the next race when he surprisingly defeated Masters, but the visitors still trailed 22-14. Masters made the gate but was caught up in traffic and couldn’t catch ex-Monarchs racer Howarth.

Wells won his second race of the meeting in ruthless fashion, and with Clegg finishing third this 4-2 stretched Monarchs’ lead to 26-16 and they were looking more than comfortable.

One had to sympathise with Sheffield who are strong candidates to make the play-offs but are being penalised every time they have a Friday match by Somerset Rebels who ride in the Premiership and who have first call on their No.1 Grajczonek.

Sheffield then won their first race advantage of the night with a 4-2 from Todd Kurtz and Rob Branford in eight heat, but Monarchs hit back with a 4-2 of their own from Erik Riss and Clegg in heat nine to restore their ten-point cushion.

And with the tenth race shared 3-3 Monarchs led 35-25 which prompted the Sheffield management to hand Summers a tactical outing in heat 11. He defeated Wells, ruining his potential maximum hopes, and this 6-3 advantage reduced the arrears to just seven points, 38-31. But Clegg also did superbly to claim third place to keep Kurtz at the back.

But the door then opened for Sheffield to reduce Monarchs’ lead further in heat 12 when Erik Riss was excluded after falling off. And they grabbed it with both hands with a 5-1 from Bjerre and Branford which slashed the points gap to 39-36. And that was cut to just one point when heat 13 was awarded after Masters fell, Howarth and Summers scoring a 4-2 to make the scores 41-40 with just two races remaining – and a possible big shock on the cards.

But Mark Riss and Clegg came to the rescue with a 5-1 in the heat 14 and the relief from Monarchs fans was almost palpable as the result clinched the match points for the relieved home side who now led 46-41. Masters and Wells then earned a share of the spoils in heat 15 behind race winner Howarth.

So Monarchs were first past the winning post, but it wasn’t entirely convincing.

Monarchs: Clegg 11, Wells 11, Masters 10, E Riss 8, M Riss 7, Davey 2.

Sheffield: Howarth 13, Summers 12, Bjerre 8, Branford 5, Kurtz 3, Sarjeant 2, McDonald 1.