Berwick Bandits were blown away like tumbleweed at Armadale last night as they saw their League Cup qualifying hopes sink into the dust like some ageing gunslinger no longer quick enough on the draw.
Berwick were soundly beaten 55-37 by an Edinburgh Monarchs team who need only defeat Glasgow Tigers in two weeks’ time to clinch their spot in the last four of the competition.
Having dropped out of the Premier League Knockout Cup recently, this latest silverware exit leaves Berwick with some searching questions to answer. It’s now the league championship or nothing for the Border outfit.
Berwick were in no way humbled but team manager Ian Rae admitted it was an almost impossible task for them. He said: “Qualifying for the semi-finals was never in our equation after we lost at home to Edinburgh last weekend.
“I said to my team just go out and do your best, but play it safe because track conditions were very tricky due to some heavy showers earlier in the day. This they did, but in all honesty not many teams will come to Armadale this season and leave with anything, Edinburgh are a very good side.”
Berwick were also handicapped by the continuing absence of injured skipper Ricky Ashworth. They opted to use rider replacement as cover, but the facility only yielded a meagre three points, and Rae conceded: “This was not a good return from our point of view, so as they say we are now free to concentrate on the league.”
Monarchs did not really assert themselves until the second half and were only six points to the good at the halfway mark.
They eventually pulled away thanks to a brace of 5-1s in heats nine and ten and this knocked some of the fight out of their opponents. The most pleasing aspect from a Monarchs perspective was the five-point return earned by teenager Max Fricke.
The young Aussie grabbed two second place rewards, the first in heat nine, when he held his line brilliantly on the last bend of the last lap despite Bandits star Robin Aspegren breathing over his shoulder. It was his rival who blinked first, spinning round, as Fricke flew to the line. Then, in heat 14, Fricke was out against former Monarchs skipper Matthew Wethers but found his fellow countryman a bit too wily for him. Securing another second-place finish, though, will have boosted Fricke’s confidence no end. He said: “I did as well as I could and was quite pleased with how I rode, given that the track was pretty greasy. I knew Robin was right next to me in heat nine but I didn’t panic and just kept my head down on the way to the line.
“But Matthew was too good for me in my final ride. I had made a good start from the gate, and my starts are improving which I’m happy with, but I just didn’t have quite the speed to get past Matthew.
“But I’m happy and it was also a good win for the team and that’s what counts.”
Monarchs’ big guns were also well to the fore, notably Dutchman Theo Pijper who displayed a lot of his old trademark guile, none more so than in the heat 15 top scorers’ finale when he produced a fantastic “Kelly Moran” type style pass on the second bend to squeeze underneath Wethers and Aspegren to follow teammate Craig Cook home for a 5-1 climax.
Cook himself also raced into double figures despite almost running into partner Derek Sneddon in heat one which allowed Berwick to snatch a 3-3 in a race they looked destined to lose at one point.
Cook’s only defeat came at the hands of Berwick’s gallant Frenchman David Bellego who was well worth his seven-point total.
Not so pleasing for Monarchs was reserve Marcel Helfer who didn’t fancy the heavy conditions one little bit and failed to score, and this could place his future at the club in doubt unless he gets to grips with things.
Berwick’s joint top scorers were Wethers and Aspegren with nine points each, but the visitors were never going to find the miracle they needed to stave off their elimination from the competition. In stark contrast, Monarchs march on triumphantly.
Monarchs: Cook 13, Pijper 13, Tabaka 9, Vissing 8, Sneddon 7, Fricke 5, Helfer 0.
Berwick: Wethers 9, Aspegren 9, Bellego 7, Smith 6, Edberg 3, Barrett 3.