Speedway: Monarchs’ Craig Cook feels the strain

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CRAIG COOK today confessed he is beginning to feel the strain of having to win last-heat deciders to secure victory for Edinburgh Monarchs.

However, the 26-year-old Cumbrian also admitted that the hug he got from co-promoter John Campbell after winning heat 15 to send Monarchs into the KO Cup semi-finals at Newcastle Diamonds on Sunday makes his job for the team all the more worthwhile.

Cook, who lines up against former club Workington Comets in a stern Premier League test at Armadale tonight, said: “It shouldn’t be relied on me to go out and win these last races because it is stressful. I’ve had three meetings recently, one of them for my Elite League club Belle Vue Aces, where I’ve had to win the final race to gain victory for my side, but I have dealt with the pressure quite well. It’s not ideal, though, to go into last-heat deciders having to win the race.”

Cook was touched by Campbell’s spontaneous gesture at Newcastle after his win in the top scorers’ finale sealed a remarkable 46-44 triumph for the Capital side, who had lost the first leg of the quarter-final tie at home by a single point. “The smile on John’s face and our team manager Alex Harkess after the meeting was amazing. John gave me a big hug when I got back to the pits and that brought home to me that riding for Edinburgh is like being part of a big family,” said Cook, who had held out little hope of Monarchs making the last four after the Diamonds’ 45-44 win at Armadale in the first leg. “If somebody had offered me odds of 100/1 on us winning before the match, I wouldn’t even have risked a pound on it,” he said. “I did not think we’d pull it off, but we did, and I have massive respect for the team.”

Cook knows Monarchs cannot hang about on cloud nine forever and if they are to reach the end-of-season play-offs then they must defeat Workington to get their league hopes back on track.

Monarchs are still without the injured Jozsef Tabaka and Mitchell Davey, so James Sarjeant has been drafted in as they bid to avoid a third loss in a row at home.

Cook said: “We have got to make some good gates because Workington are a team who don’t go particularly well at Armadale, but anything can happen as we’ve seen over the last fortnight. And if the track is as slick as it was last week, then races will be won from the gate.

“Hopefully, we will have more dirt put down on the track to put the fear into Workington. It’s critical that the track is grippy, if it’s slick it makes it so easy for visiting riders. Newcastle took to it like ducks to water [in the first leg]. Losing at home is simply not acceptable, and it should never happen twice. If we drop any more points at home then our chances of finishing in the top six will suffer. We must transfer the ‘never say die’ attitude we took to Newcastle to Armadale.”

Meanwhile Cook is hoping to make his GB World Team Cup debut at King’s Lynn next month after being named in the initial ten-man squad to face Denmark, Sweden and USA. “If I hadn’t made the ten-man squad I probably would have retired,” added Cook.

Monarchs travel to Workington tomorrow night for the return fixture.