Ipswich WITCHES are the only Premier League speedway team who can put a curse on Edinburgh Monarchs play-off ambitions. The next 48 hours could be critical for the capital side, whose dream of winning a fourth championship crown remains very much alive.
Monarchs travel to Ipswich tonight before hosting their Suffolk challengers in the return fixture at Armadale on Friday. Following Monarchs surprise victory at Berwick Bandits at the weekend, which wiped out their disappointing home loss against Scunthorpe Scorpions, it would be a brave man who would predict what Monarchs will do at Foxhall Heath this evening, bearing in mind that the Witches have lost three times at their own den so far this season.
Monarchs have called upon Scunthorpe’s Thomas Jorgensen and Glasgow Mason Campton to guest for Craig Cook and Jozsef Tabaka respectively, and Redcar’s Aaron Summers and Berwick’s Micky Dyer will fill the stand-in roles at Armadale.
Monarchs co-promoter John Campbell insists he will be delighted if his unpredictable side’s long road trip yields them a point, stressing that the home tie is of far greater importance.
He said: “I would be more than happy if we collect a point tonight but after what happened at Berwick, who knows what we are capable of.”
Campbell admitted having watched his squad crumble in the wet against Scunthorpe, he was pessimistic at best about their chances at Berwick, revealing: “My expectations were nil but as we built momentum I knew we could win the match, and so it proved.”
And it was German reserve Marcel Helfer who proved their unlikely hero when he combined to grab 5-1 with skipper Matthew Wethers in heat 14, which clinched Monarchs’ bumper haul of four precious league points.
“I had told Marcel all he had to do in that race was to get out of the start and that is exactly what he did,” said Campbell. “He was tremendous and won us the match.”
Yet Helfer was under fire against Scunthorpe just 24 hours earlier when he looked all over the place, but Campbell defended his young star who fared a lot better against Redcar Bears in the second meeting of Monarchs double header, and observed: “Marcel looked assured and safe against Redcar, and once he got himself into position he was fine.
“I think he is certainly now quite capable and if he could make four starts in the same night then he would win four races.”
Monarchs lead Ipswich in the table by a single point but with matches in hand, they cannot afford to be as sloppy at home as they were against Scunthorpe, irrespective of how they fare at Ipswich.
Campbell said: “Friday’s clash against Ipswich is the key one, it’s the play-off decider in my view, but I think we’ll handle them. Everyone in the Ipswich side has an average of under seven, they do not have an out and out star.
“Nor do I think they have a rider who can come to Armadale and win three or four races, so I would expect us to dominate the race winners. However, Ipswich are a good solid team and we cannot overlook that, if we win the pressure would be off.
“I believe we could afford to a drop a point in our remaining home meetings and still clinch the final play-off spot.”
Yet Campbell is acutely aware that the Scunthorpe setback underlined nothing is certain at home and the 54-39 loss hurt. “Scunthorpe had one or two riders’ in their side who had done well at Armadale before and we were not at our best because we did not have our full team.
“I’m not saying the result would have been different had conditions been dry, but it would have been more of a contest and we may well have done better.”
Meanwhile, Campbell has ruled out a shock return for Finn Kalla Katajisto as a season-end replacement for broken hand victim Tabaka.
“Kalle doesn’t fit into the averages and I haven’t ruled out the possibility that Jozsef will be back. We still have two months to go and even if Jozsef came back for our KO Cup semi-finals against Ipswich at the end of the month, we’d be delighted with that.”