EDINBURGH MONARCHS have given themselves a fighting chance of retaining the Scottish Cup after a sizeable 45-33 first leg victory over Premier League champions Glasgow Tigers at rain-affected Armadale last night.
The meeting was abandoned after heat 13 but the result stands and Monarchs are certainly in with a chance of stopping the Tigers adding to the SuperCup and Spring Trophy silverware they secured earlier in the season, and if that happens it would console some Monarchs fans who felt highly aggrieved at the two league losses Monarchs suffered at home to their oldest rivals a few weeks ago.
But Monarchs’ victory came at a price as they lost skipper Matthew Wethers in the third race. Wethers locked up on the second bend causing his bike to lift and he took a heavy fall as a consequence.
Wethers was confirmed as having concussion and withdrew from the meeting. Glasgow were also in the wars after their young French rider David Bellego crashed into the safety fence in his opening ride in heat two. He complained of having double vision and he took no further part in the match either.
The Tigers, who were already using rider replacement for former Monarch Michal Rajkowski and a guest for their captain Joe Screen, were thrown off their stride a bit by Bellego’s mishap and Monarchs sensed this was a golden opportunity to capitalise for a change.
Once again Monarchs were superbly marshalled by Andrew Tully who scooped a clutch of supporters’ awards at the end of the meeting. Tully was unbeaten in four rides and the manner in which he coped with the greasy conditions was testament to the dominance he has shown round the Lothian Arena of late.
Teammate Kevin Wolbert was also unbeaten by the opposition as he raced to a comfortable 11-point haul from his four outings which included a crucial 5-1 advantage with partner Kalle Katajisto in the sixth race which helped Monarchs open up a six-point gap at that stage.
Tigers legend Shane Parker replaced Screen, but Parker, who retires from the sport this month, was never going to risk life and limb at this stage of his career, and scored six points. A few years ago he would have eaten some of the Monarchs for breakfast.
James Grieves wasn’t firing on all cylinders either and his five-point return will need to be doubled in the return leg at Ashfield tomorrow afternoon if the Tigers are to rescue their trophy hopes.
Monarchs will have been thrilled to see Craig Cook back to something like his true best. The Cumbria-based racer has had a torried time recently but he also scored 11 points. “I felt very happy with my score,” said Cook. “My head was down a few weeks ago, but this was a much better performance from me, and I’m so pleased with the effort I put in on what was a very tricky surface due to the rain.”
Tigers ace Richard Sweetman, who struggled and only scored three points, thinks there is still everything to play for and felt the decision to abandon the match with two races left was a correct call.
He said: “It was, the track was getting bad and also dangerous. I think we can pull the deficit back if all our boys chip in with something. If James (Grieves) has a better second-leg performance than first we should be okay.
“It’s certainly been unusual for us to lose a meeting to Monarchs this season but if we get a bit of luck tomorrow at our place, we can still do it.”
Sweetman added: “I wasn’t that happy with my own display, Armadale is not one of my favourite circuits, I prefer bigger tracks.” Monarchs gaffer Alex Harkess was well satisfied to have carved out such a handy home advantage.
“The rain ruined the meeting to be honest, it was such a soaking type of drizzle, I don’t know how the riders’ were able to see where they were going. But it’s especially pleasing to have won by a dozen points when you consider we lost Matthew after his first ride,” he said.
Monarchs: Tully 12, Cook 11, Wolbert 11, Katajisto 5, Perry 4, Howarth 2, Wethers 0.
Glasgow: Morris 10, Pijper 9, Parker 6, Grieves 5, Sweetman 3, Bellego 0, McPhail 0.