Edinburgh Monarchs will take a giant step to realising their speedway play-off qualification dream if they gather all six points from tonight’s vital double-header against Glasgow Tigers and Rye House Rockets at Armadale.
Should Monarchs accomplish a twin triumph, then their nearest and only challengers for the sixth and final spot, Ipswich Witches, would need to lift all four points from their visit to Berwick Bandits tomorrow night, and even that would probably not be good enough to deny Monarchs who have crucial matches in hand over their Suffolk rivals.
However, having dropped four points at home over the past fortnight, Monarchs remain vulnerable due to the continued absence of injured No. 1 and main man Craig Cook and reserve Jozsef Tabaka.
It had been hoped that Cook might return to action after a five-week lay-off, but co-promoter John Campbell explained: “The description Craig gave me this week of his plans to get fit did not fill me with confidence and with two big matches tonight I would have hated if Craig had tried to race and failed.”
Campbell has turned to ex-Monarch Kevin Wolbert to guest for Cook, and Byron Bekker stands in for Tabaka.
Monarchs desperately need to score points at the tail-end, but German rider Marcel Helfer remains frustratingly inconsistent and the calls for him to be replaced have grown more vociferous recently as he struggled to handle the wet track conditions of the past fortnight. However, many of his team-mates have toiled as well.
And Campbell made it clear he has no intention of dropping Helfer, who picked up what can only be deemed as five gift points against Ipswich last Friday.
Campbell said: “Marcel has now probably ridden more matches here than he has done in Germany and he is building up experience all the time.
“It has taken him weeks to get used to the Armadale track the way it normally rides, then, over the past two weeks, he gets conditions which are completely different. He still produce extraordinary rides, particularly away from home and that justifies his place in the team.
“I’m satisfied with what Marcel is doing, but it is off-putting for myself and supporters when he is at the back in a race. I’m not saying he gives up, but he could do better in giving the impression that he is going for a point. He doesn’t do that and that puts doubts in supporters’ minds about his ability, yet he has the ability to win those extraordinary races.”
Monarchs badly need a break from the seemingly endless rain because Campbell is in no doubt the porridge-like racing surface cost Monarchs their unbeaten home league record against Scunthorpe, plus the dropped point against Ipswich.
“The points we have dropped at home happened because we were caught out by the weather,” he said. “As a result, the track was not how our riders had expected it to be;, it was slick last week and just an awful mess the previous week. I’m in no doubt had we raced in dry weather we would have been fine and certainly would have beaten Ipswich far more comfortably than we did. I’m not sure if we would have stopped Scunthorpe because they are on a high at the moment.”
Glasgow have also got injury problems with skipper Joe Screen sidelined with a knee complaint. Newcastle’s Mark Lemon replaces him and James McBain fills the role left vacant by Filip Sitera who Tigers released this week.
Campbell knows Monarchs can only blow it now, and points out: “The pressure is on Ipswich to get seven points from their final two matches. But we still have nine points available to us at home and eight away from home. And while I won’t be going to Newcastle Diamonds on Sunday with a great deal of confidence, our trip to Rye House a week tomorrow is a winnable match. We still have a lot of points to play with – getting six tonight would be lovely.”
Meanwhile, Campbell revealed that any announcement regarding the club’s possible move to Ingliston next season is not imminent. “There has been little discussion for a number of weeks now. Things are not dead, but they are not progressing. Obviously it is a big decision for Ingliston. It would be a major change around for them in what they have there at the Showground, and they are taking their time in making sure they make the decision correct.”
Campbell added that Armadale would be available in 2013 – and beyond.