With the chasing pack closing in on leaders Edinburgh Monarchs at the top of the Championship table, tonight’s visit of Berwick Bandits is a must-win encounter for the capital side at Armadale.
And Edinburgh are going to have to rely on two guests to help lead them to glory. No.1 rider Sam Masters and Ricky Wells are competing for Australia and United States respectively in the World Team Cup Race-Off in Poland and Monarchs have recruited Ipswich duo Rory Schlein and Justin Sedgmen as replacements. Both riders, of course, are ex-Monarchs.
It seems inconceivable that Monarchs won’t scoop all three match points as Berwick are having a wretched season so far. They have only won three matches in the Championship and have been ravaged with injuries.
They slumped to a 60-33 defeat at local rivals Newcastle Diamonds on Sunday and managed just one heat advantage during the entire match.
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess doesn’t see any potential pitfalls and said: “Some people are saying it should be our easiest match of the season. Who knows, but there is no doubt that Berwick are going through a bad time for sure.
“They’ll not be our most exciting challengers so far. I don’t expect any problems, but it is sport so anything can happen and at the end of the day Berwick are our opposition and we have a job still to do.”
Monarchs are just two points clear now of their play-off contenders and while Harkess concedes there is still a long way to go, he does admit that preserving their home record is of paramount importance, but insists Monarchs need to pick up more points on the road to make their qualification for the glittering end of season play-offs absolutely certain.
He said: “A couple of more away wins would be nice. We need to pick up points on the road and not come away empty handed as has been the case of late.
“We simply have not scored enough points to gain those vital away wins and that is because our heat leaders have not performed as a trio on the night.
“It’s been the case throughout the whole team that different people have been performing but not collectively.
“I’ve felt that we haven’t seen any complete performances this year which is frustrating because there is so much potential to do better but it’s not been happening for us.
“Erik Riss, we have seen his form improving and he is flying now, we need everyone going like that.”
Harkess added: “To be fair it’s been difficult at home because the track keeps changing because of the weather and as a consequence the grippier conditions have caused problems and don’t suit everyone.
“Nonetheless, if we want to stay in contention, we have to start picking up points away from Armadale.”
One rider who is causing concern to Harkess is Australian Josh Pickering, who rode out of his skin at the start of the season. But Harkess said: “He is going through a bit of a slump at the moment. He needs to pull himself up.
“He started off the year very brightly and raised his average. He has to make more use of the reserve berth and he then needs to become good enough to get himself out of the reserve berth and in to the team proper again.
“That has to be his aim. Speedway is a confidence game – it’s all about having your head right.
“Sometimes when Josh is out in front he looks as if he can take on anybody. He has to sort himself out, no question about that.
“And he must use the reserve berth to his full advantage.”
Skipper Sam Masters and Erik Riss will represent Monarchs in the SGB Championship Pairs event at Somerset on Friday, July 21. Monarchs, who won the title in 2014, have been drawn in Group B alongside Newcastle, Berwick, Redcar, and Sheffield.
Last week’s Caledonian Riders Championship, which was washed out, will be restaged on Friday, August 25.