It’s been something of a bumpy road at home over the past fortnight, but last night at Armadale Edinburgh Monarchs all but smoothed their path into the Premier League speedway play-offs.
On a blissfully dry track, Monarchs tamed local rivals Glasgow Tigers 57-35 and grounded Rye House Rockets 57-36 to pass their double-header test with flying colours. And with their chief challengers for the sixth and final qualifying spot, Ipswich Witches, dropping a vital point against Newcastle Diamonds at Foxhall Heath on Thursday, Monarchs need only defeat Leicester Lions next Friday at the Lothian Arena to make absolutely sure of their top-six finish.
And even that fixture could prove academic unless Ipswich take all four points at Berwick Bandits tonight.
Monarchs’ triumph against Glasgow was warmly welcomed by the Monarchs faithful, and with Craig Cook and Joszef Tabaka still out injured, former Monarchs Kevin Wolbert and Byron Bekker guested for the sidelined duo. And Wolbert, who toiled in the mud when he rode for Scunthorpe against Monarchs two weeks ago, was a changed man and looked far more assured and dominant on this occasion. The German raced to a paid maximum and in a nervy first half, kept the Capital outfit very much in the match. Monarchs only led 26-22 at the halfway mark after allowing Glasgow to provide four race winners in a row.
Skipper Matthew Wethers and to a lesser degree Theo Pijper could not buy a win between them at that stage and this failing from two of Monarchs’ most experienced riders fuelled Tigers with the belief, albeit mistaken, that they might just upset Monarchs’ play-off dreams.
However, the Armadale outfit blossomed in the second half, winning all seven heats to produce a commanding final scoreline which did not seem possible or achievable at one stage. And the one man Monarchs’ fans can thanks for getting them out of trouble was Bekker whose effort in both meetings was absolutely fantastic.
Bekker picked up two points in his first couple of outings then brilliantly sailed past Glasgow guest Mark Lemon to grab a pivotal 5-1 alongside Andrew Tully in heat 11, and two more points capped off a superb display from Bekker who said: “I always enjoy coming back to ride for Monarchs at Armadale and I always go out and do my best. That heat 11 race was fantastic for me, I saw the gap to get past Mark and went for it, and that 5-1 set the whole team up for a big win.”
Wolbert was also celebrating after his strong showing and commented: “I enjoyed myself out there, the track was good and I was very pleased by the way I rode. I did struggle when I was here for Scunthorpe but I think the Monarchs fans will be glad they saw more of my true riding self this time.”
Tully was Monarchs’ top scorer and dropped his only point in five rides to James Grieves in his first ride. But Wethers had a bit of a torrid time and waited until the penultimate heat before posting his only win of the night.
“I did struggle and couldn’t really get going,” said Wethers, “But the whole team did really well to get us the win we so badly needed.” Team-mate Derek Sneddon also performed well, managing seven points which included victory in his third ride. It looked as if Monarchs’ test against the Rockets was going to follow a similar pattern of the Glasgow match, because once again the home side seemed to be very hesitant at the start of the contest and were only two points in front of the Rockets after five heats.
But with Wolbert, Tully, and Bekker all looking pretty lively, Monarchs gradually asserted their authority against a Rockets side ravaged by injuries. Transformation was the name of the game for Monarchs in the latter stages of the meeting as they piled up the points to win eventually just as easily as the score suggests.
Wolbert managed a paid maximum and was ably supported by Pijper who reeled off a trio of wins from his 11-point total. Glasgow’s James Grieves swapped race jackets to guest for the Rockets and picked up eight points.
Rockets’ top rider was Anders Mellgren who won a tactical outing against Wolbert and Sneddon in heat ten. Overall though, the Rockets did not have enough guys firing to rob Monarchs of all six points they needed to collect on what was a very important evening for them and their supporters.
Monarchs v Glasgow
Monarchs: Tully 14, Wolbert 11, Pijper 11,Wethers 7, Sneddon 7, Bekker 6, Helfer 1.
Glasgow: Grajczonek 9, Grieves 7, Wright 7, Lemon 6, Bager 4, Campton 2, McBain 0.
Monarchs v Rye House
Monarchs: Wolbert 14, Pijper 11, Tully 10, Sneddon 8, Wethers 8, Helfer 4, Bekker 3.
Rye House: Mellgren 13, Bunyan 9, Grieves 8, Nielsen 3, Sarjeant 3, Lambert 0.