JOHN CAMPBELL’S belief that his Edinburgh Monarchs side would “hammer” play-off rivals Ipswich Witches came perilously close to backfiring on him at Armadale last night.
In a nerve-jangling Premier League tussle, Monarchs just got the better of their Suffolk rivals, but their 48-42 victory saw them drop a precious home point. The capital outfit still remain in pole position to clinch their qualification spot, but it was a close run thing.
Monarchs track staff removed about twenty tons of dirt off the track following heavy overnight rain, and this left the Lothian Arena surface terribly slick and this suited the Ipswich riders than far more than the home performers.
In a jittery first half, both Monarchs and Ipswich tossed away points like confetti and it would have been foolish to try and predict the outcome with Monarchs leading by just four points, 14-10 after four heats.
In heat six, Monarchs suffered what could have been a potentially damaging victory blow when Derek Sneddon locked up with nobody near him on the second bend and the 5-1 advantage they looked like gaining turned into a 3-3 instead. This had been preceded by a wobble by Theo Pijper in heat five, which again robbed Monarchs of seizing the upper hand. To be fair, Ipswich also handed out gifts like Santa Claus and should have been well in front before the second half of the match instead of the scores being tied 24-24.
Monarchs then made a crucial breakthrough in heat nine, when Pijper and skipper Matthew Wethers pinched a 5-1 against Rohan Tungate and Stefan Nielsen. But calamity reared it’s head again in the very next race when Sneddon, instead of settling for a safe third place, tried to better his position and was pushed into the fence on the fourth turn by Witches ace Morten Risager.
Sneddon was not exactly overjoyed that no punsishment was meted out to Risager and said: “To be fair Morten was not totally at fault because it was very hard to hold your racing line, but there was contact, but the referee had his blinkers on.
“The track was really slick because of all the dirt which had been lifted off, and we struggled, but it was the same for both sides.”
Ipswich did themselves no favours in the popularity stakes as the meeting started to simmer when reserve Matt Tresarrieu fell in heat 12 and stayed down to gain a rerun, which paid off with Monarchs having to settle for a 4-2 instead of the 5-1 they were on at the first time of asking.
But lightning then struck twice when Tungate pulled the same stunt in heat 13, but this time Monarchs did not suffer, gaining maximum points in the rerun, which was the situation before the race was halted.
Call it gamesmanship if you like, but Ipswich’s actions left a bitter taste in the mouth.
The Witches then snatched a 4-2 in the penultimate heat, forcing Monarchs to conjure up a 5-1 in heat 15 to snare all three points. However, Risager flew from the gate to defeat Monarchs duo Andrew Tully and hitherto unbeaten guest rider Aaron Summers, leaving Monarchs to rue on what might have been.
Interestingly, Risager’s colleague Dakota North had to start from 15 metres back in that race after failing to follow the starting marshall’s instructions, a penalty which does not happen very often for such an offence.
Monarchs were not exactly spectacular and slick tracks expose their perennial failings from the gate. Skipper Wethers, who scored nine points, said: “It was really difficult out on the track. It was hard to find the right racing lines and also the correct bike set-ups. I was surprised at just how wet the track was, and conditions did affect us.”
Pijper, who should have been out in the heat 15 finale because he is a better gater than Tully, commented: “When you win at home you expect to take all three points and we failed to do this, but it was not a complete disaster and we will bounce back in the meetings we have left, and I think we will be in the play-offs.”
Tully, who looked down on power, and managed just a single race win, said: “We were unlucky not to have taken a point at Ipswich on Thursday and it was disappointing that we dropped a home point, but it was a tough night because of conditions.”
Monarchs still have vital matches in hand over Ipswich and if they can take all six points against Glasgow Tigers and Rye House Rockets in Friday’s vital double header at Armadale, then what Ipswich do in their final fixtures won’t matter.
Monarchs chief Alex Harkess said: “It’s still very much in our own hands providing we don’t drop any more points at home. The slick track played right into Ipswich’s hands, because we are not a team who can get out of the gate quickly enough, and when there is no dirt, you cannot pass if you get stranded at the tapes.”
Summers, a former Monarch, dropped just one point from his five starts and was a great stand-in for Craig Cook, but Monarchs choice of Micky Dyer as cover for reserve Jozsef Tabaka proved to be a disaster as the Aussie failed to score, although he was unlucky in heat seven when he was impeded by Witches ace Taylor Poole on the second bend. Nonetheless, Dyer really did live up to his name.
Risager, who can be hit and miss, topped the Ipswich scorechart with 12 points and was a thorn in Monarchs flesh in the latter part of the match, winning his last two races.
Monarchs: Summers 14, Wethers 9, Tully 9, Pijper 8, Helfer 5, Sneddon 3, Dyer 0.
Ipswich: Risager 12, Tresarrieu 8, North 7, Poole 6, Lanham 5, Tungate 2, Neilsen 2.