IN THE pantheon of truly great away speedway wins which Edinburgh Monarchs have engineered throughout their history, last night’s miraculous 46-44 triumph at Newcastle Diamonds, which secured their place in the Premier League Knockout Cup semi-finals by a single point on aggregate, will surely never be eclipsed.
After Newcastle triumphed in the first leg 45-44 at Armadale on Friday, it seemed almost outrageous to even think Monarchs could come back from the dead. And their hopes of rescuing their cup ambitions seemingly slithered from slim to none after Jozsef Tabaka broke his foot riding in Hungary on Saturday and looks like being out of action for a month.
Monarchs had to operate rider replacement for their crocked star and with Mitchell Davey already sidelined with a broken wrist and his stand-in James Sarjeant failing to score despite trying hard, Monarchs were virtually reduced to a five-man team. This underlines the size of their achievement against a Diamonds team who are one of the strongest sides in the country.
The Monarchs management could barely comprehend what they witnessed at the end of the match and, if Lord Lucan had galloped around the pits on Red Rum, nobody would have batted an eyelid.
Everybody played their part, but in Craig Cook Monarchs have a gold-plated insurance policy when it comes down to winning last-heat deciders. Finding fresh superlatives to describe the 26-year-old Cumbrian would tax a lexicographer after he scored a brilliant 15-point maximum and if he carries on in this manner, Cook is likely to have a sculpture of himself placed on a plinth at Armadale Stadium.
Surprisingly, Newcastle did not look so dominant round their own Brough Park circuit as they did at Armadale and, when Monarchs managed to hang on to their coat-tails well into the second half, suddenly the impossible looked possible.
Monarchs trailed just 40-38 with two heats left and paved the way for Cook to deliver a bravura last ride when skipper Derek Sneddon and Max Fricke produced an absolutely belting 5-1 advantage in heat 14.
Sneddon, who scored seven points overall, and was in true skipper’s mode, took the chequered flag and missed all the action going on behind him involving Diamonds ace Ludvig Lindgren and Fricke.
Lindgren thought he had the measure of Monarchs’ young Aussie, but Fricke, who is a very intelligent rider for his tender years and always looks for different racing lines that he can exploit, suddenly shot up the inside of Lindgren coming off the last bend of the final lap to put Monarchs tantalisingly 43-41 in front with the tension among the Monarchs fans almost unbearable.
And so it fell to Cook who needed to win the heat-15 top-scorers race to cement a remarkable triumph. Facing Richie Worrall and Diamonds No. 1 Stuart Robson, Cook flew from the tapes and by the time he had broadsided into the first corner it was race over.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” said Cook. “I knew what was required in that final heat and I just went out and did it, but what a result. Even I did not really believe we could turn this semi-final round. It was great and what a boost for the whole squad.”
Sneddon had a grin as wide as the Tyne and said: “After Newcastle beat us at Armadale that put us on the back foot and hearing the news about Jozsef was terrible, so to come to Newcastle and win was incredible.
“We knew we had to keep things tight and if Newcastle had run away with the meeting, we might as well have put our bikes in the van. But we are so good in the second half of a meeting.
“That heat 14 race was incredible. I actually thought Max was with me all the way. It was only after I crossed the finishing line I realised he wasn’t. But Max is amazing, since he dropped to reserve his confidence is growing and growing.”
Sneddon added: “Whilst this was great and everybody did what was asked of them, we need to get our finger out at home. Losing two weeks in a row is simply not acceptable and we need to be winning at Armadale no matter what.”
Fricke was handed seven rides and scored a pivotal ten points and was delighted with his second place in the penultimate heat after outfoxing Lindgren. “I was behind pretty much the whole time,” he said. “Ludvig knew he wasn’t going to get the win and played it safe by going for the inside line, but I snuck up the inside of him when he was on the slick stuff. I don’t think he was too pleased when he came in.
“The track was surprisingly good and, even though I took seven rides, I wasn’t that tired. The more laps I get, the better it is for me.”
Co-boss John Campbell, who thought he had seen everything from various Monarchs teams over the years, observed: “We knew when we got past heat ten that everything we mapped out after that would happen and it did.
“We just knew we could get this result. It’s unbelievable and I’m so very pleased. It’s great to have someone like Craig to win the vital races for us.
“He is under a tremendous amount of pressure, but is coping with it really well. I’m sure Newcastle are just as disappointed as I was on Friday night, but the result has given us one problem: I don’t know what to do with all the extra fixtures we are going to have!”
It must be noted that Claus Vissing, who has taken some stick for recent under-par performances, picked up eight points which included a win in his first ride and looked a lot more competitive and steady.
Newcastle riders and officials were shellshocked at the end, and in truth some Monarchs supporters probably were too.
Newcastle: R.Worrall 12, Robson 9, Tully 8, Henry 5, Lindgren 5, Kerr 3, S.Worrall 2.
Monarchs: Cook 15, Fricke 10, Vissing 8, Sneddon 7, Pijper 6, Sarjeant 0.