Edinburgh MONARCHS conclude their League Cup speedway qualifying campaign with home and away ties against Berwick Bandits tonight and tomorrow – but they will have one eye on their trip to Scunthorpe Scorpions on Monday which heralds the start of their all-important Premier League programme.
Monarchs’ Cup run has been less than outstanding and their failure to win any of their away fixtures in the northern section torpedoed any hopes they held of reaching the semi-finals. On that basis, some will say the portents for success on the road in the league do not look encouraging.
Monarchs co-promoter Alex Harkess concedes the League Cup schedule has asked some big questions of his team, and not all of them have been answered. He said: “We believe we are going to win any competition we enter.
“I think we have done reasonably well, but losing at home to Redcar Bears was the main problem we had.
“And I’ve got to say we have been disappointing away from home and that pretty much sums it up.
“You expect most teams at this early stage of the season to be pretty level, and on paper there was not a lot between everybody in our section. But it proved difficult, because you don’t know who your top rider is going to be.
“We’d have been delighted had we qualified for the semi-finals, because the League Cup leads into the league which is the most important thing, but it’s not the end of the world and we move on after this weekend.”
Some clubs have used the League Cup as a barometer of how well or badly they have performed, but Harkess points out: “Five of our riders are our own assets and we already knew plenty about them. I didn’t think we’d learn very much more over the course of the Cup matches. It was really only our two new reserves, Micky Dyer and Charles Wright, that we were interested in, especially Micky who hasn’t seen a lot of the Premier League tracks.
“Charles had, but he was coming back from injury when he joined us and had a lot to prove. Regrettably, he’s sidelined again after his crash at Glasgow on Sunday.”
Monarchs seeming inability to shine away from Armadale has rekindled fears about the make-up of this year’s squad and even Harkess admits: “Our away form is a concern because some of our team are not riding to their capabilities. Had they done so, we may have picked up a point or two on our cup travels instead of none at all. Even at this late stage we are looking to collect something on the road, but realistically our form has to change for this to happen.”
By no means wholly culpable for Monarchs’ failings on the road, Andrew Tully has, nonetheless, attracted plenty of online stick for leaving his home form behind once he gets over the Border. The Scottish Open champion, who surrendered his No. 1 spot to team-mate Craig Cook under new averages which came into force this week, is now a scoring enigma.
“I’m sure Andrew is concerned about his away form,” said Harkess. “It will be interesting to see what happens now he is no longer number one. It may take the pressure off him.”
Tully will now occupy the No.5 berth and Harkess says: “This means Andrew doesn’t have to look out for his partner so much. He’ll now be out with a reserve and it will be of the utmost importance that he gets as many points as he can.
“Andrew will still be involved in the important heat 13 race, which he has done really well in alongside Craig at home so far. It is so important that we win all our home Premier League fixtures. Equally, we must pick up some rewards away from home to finish in the top six, which gives us entry into the championship play-offs.”
Certainly Monarchs, who are also without a crocked Derek Sneddon, might have wished for an easier league opener than Scunthorpe who are pretty solid round their own circuit. Harkess added: “We have picked up points before at Scunthorpe but, minus Charles and Derek, it’s going to be very difficult. We are using rider replacement for Derek but only Matthew (Wethers) and our reserves can take extra rides. We will be up against it.”
Before then, Monarchs must try to ambush the Bandits, who are unbeaten at Shielfield Park in the League Cup, and while they don’t have a good record at Armadale, they will doubtless fancy their chances of causing an upset against a weakened Monarchs outfit this evening.