EDINBURGH Monarchs’ Premier league play-off hopes suffered an almost certain fatal blow at Armadale last night as they dropped a costly point against Scunthorpe Scorpions.
Monarchs laboured their way to a narrow 48-42 victory, courtesy of two late 5-1s, but their failure to collect all three match points which were on offer looks to have ended their challenge for a fourth championship crown.
Scunthorpe, who were using two guests and the rider replacement facility to cover for absent riders, once again demonstrated their liking for the Lothian Arena and their uncanny knack of getting out the gate, consistently and quickly, simply flat footed Monarchs, who were sluggish by comparision. Monarchs really must look at the formation of their squad in 2013 to make sure it includes riders who have the ability to get out of the traps in front. It is such a huge advantage.
The other critical aspect of Monarchs failure to beat their visitors far more convincingly than they managed was the ropey performance of Andrew Tully. He failed to win a race and really needs to move to another club next season if only for his own personal good.
Tully had been nicknamed a “one trick pony” because he was dominant around Armadale but weak away from home. He’s not even that commanding any more at Armadale and his up and down campaign this year has handicapped Monarchs.
Not that Tully is wholly responsible, but his inability to put any pressure on the Scunthorpe team simply made life a whole lot easier for them. Monarchs only led 26-22 after eight races and one wondered how on earth they were going to get the points they needed to keep their play-off hopes alive.
Scunthorpe then drove a huge stake through Monarchs hearts when they grabbed a 5-1 advantage in heat 11, their second of the match, courtesy of reserve Gary Irving and guest Sam Masters. Masters was the hero for Scorpions as he roared to a 14-point haul from his six starts. He was invincible early on winning his first three rides in sparkling style.
With the scores tied 33-33 going into heat 12, the Scorpions looked for all the world as if they might go on and claim outright victory.
However Monarchs shocked them with a 5-1 in heat 14, skipper Matthew Wethers and Jozsef Tabaka heading home Irving and Ashley Birks, who fell in his first two rides, otherwise the writing could well have been on the wall for Monarchs.
And incredibly and against expectations, Monarchs pulled off the 5-1 trick in heat 15, when Aaron Summers and Wethers raced clear of Masters and Kevin Doolan, but it was too little too late for the capital squad.
Wethers must be commended for his battling qualities, especially his effort in winning the top scorers finale. “I did not make a good gate,” he said, ”but I got a good run into the first corner and managed to take the Scunthorpe guys wide which made space for Aaron to come through.”
Scorpions team manager Richard Hollingsworth was delighted with his side’s efforts and said: “It was a fantastic outcome for us, the stuff of dreams really, we had a chance of actually winning the meeting, but lost out when Monarchs got those two 5-1’s at the end, but by that time we had secured the point.
“This really does put us in the box seat to win our play-off group, we were good out of the starts again, yet we are a team of racers, not gaters, but a couple of guys did have their gating boots on, but the important thing for us was that everybody contributed something to the cause.”
Hollingsworth added: “It’s going to be very difficult for Edinburgh now, they must get at least a point at Workington, and I know that’s not their favourite hunting ground, and Monarchs have not been going that well away from home this season, which is unusual.”
Jozsef Tabaka, who hurt his hand at Ipswich last night still managed to win a brace of races, but the Monarchs tail ender, who fell off in spectacular fashion in his second last outing, needs a run of smooth races to settle his confidence.
• Monarchs: Wethers 11,Summers 10, Pijper 7, Tully 6, Tabaka 6, Sneddon 6, Bekker 2.
• Scunthorpe: Masters 14, Doolan 12, Irving 8, Birks 4, Haines 2, Palm-Toft 2.