The golden rule once you reach the Premier League play-off group stages is to make sure you don’t slip on a potential banana skin in your first home fixture.
But Edinburgh Monarchs almost did exactly that in their nervy encounter against Berwick Bandits at Armadale last night. However, Monarchs ran out 54-39 winners to collect all thee points on offer.
Berwick, who dislike the Lothian Arena circuit almost as much as Dracula doesn’t care too much for daylight, for once took the fight to Monarchs and actually led 16-14 after five heats.
But they couldn’t keep their opening charge going and Monarchs, much to the relief of their supporters, assumed better control in the second half and two 5-1 advantages in heats 13 and 15 gave their match score a gloss it did not fully deserve.
Monarchs had gone into the meeting without skipper Derek Sneddon who had food poisoning. Leicester’s Max Clegg took his place and tried hard, but Berwick made hay in the reserve battle with Matthew Wethers and Alex Edberg outscoring their opposite numbers, Clegg and Aaron Fox, by 14 points and without question this superiority was the key to Berwick’s best performance at Armadale this season.
And if Bandits No.1 and former Monarch Claus Vissing had been more productive, then the final scoreline could have been very much closer. Vissing only scored two points from his five outings and no doubt this will have been a source of dismay to the Bandits team management.
It’s just as well that Monarchs’ Aussie ace Sam Masters was once more on top form and captured the ‘Monarch of the Match’ award after scooping 13 points from his five starts which included victories in his first three rides.
Masters said afterwards: “Berwick certainly gave us a bit of a scare but we dug in and got the result we wanted. It was vital that we opened up our play-off campaign with a win, and this we did despite some hiccups.
“The track was a bit tricky because of all the moisture in the air, but I was pretty happy with how I rode.”
Masters added: “The important thing now is for us to try and win the return match at Berwick tonight. And it’s going to be hard because they are a very good team round their own place. If we don’t win, we must try and pick up a point at least.”
The Bandits star performer was Kevin Doolan who piled up 16 points which encompassed a six-point tactical win over Craig Cook and Justin Sedgmen in the tenth race.
However, apart from Edberg and Wethers, who did a sterling job at the tail-end, Berwick lacked support higher up the ranks. David Bellego and Matej Kus really struggled, but they will transform themselves round their own track and Monarchs will have to wary of the threat they pose.
Bandits operated rider replacement for the injured Steen Jensen, but team manager John Anderson expressed satisfaction at the effort his side put in. He said: “We put on a pretty good show and really gave Monarchs a bit of a fright.
“Matthew (Wethers) was feeling under the weather but still completed the match, and did a god job for us. Obviously Claus was a tad disappointing and he knows he should have done better.
“However, I think we are more than capable of beating Monarchs next time and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t. We have defeated them on their last two appearances at Shielfield Park and it’s vital for us that we get all three points after this loss.”
Monarchs:- Masters 13, Cook 12, Fricke 9, Sedgmen 8, Worrall 8, Fox 4, Clegg 0.
Berwick:- Doolan 16, Edberg 9, Wethers 8, Kus 4, Vissing 2, Bellego 0.