Advantage to Monarchs as Sheffield head north

Edinburgh Monarchs' Kevin Wolbert, centre, chases, Sheffield's Jason Garrity in a nailbiting finish at Owlerton. Picture: Ron MacNeill
Edinburgh Monarchs' Kevin Wolbert, centre, chases, Sheffield's Jason Garrity in a nailbiting finish at Owlerton. Picture: Ron MacNeill
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Edinburgh Monarchs restricted Sheffield Tigers to a 46-44 win in their Premier League Knockout Cup first round first-leg clash at Owlerton last night.

And now Monarchs, who are defending the trophy, are firm favourites to progress when they host the return tie at Armadale Stadium tonight.

Monarchs did not get off to the flying start they had hoped for and lost a 4-2 in the opening race when Sam Masters was beaten by Tigers ace Ashley Birks.

And things did not get any better in the next heat when Sheffield reserve duo Josh Bates and Arthur Sissis overwhelmed their Monarchs counterparts Rob Branford and Max Clegg for a 5-1 which opened up a six-point gap between the sides.

The next four races were all shared, skipper Craig Cook keeping Monarchs in touch with victories against Sheffield’s in-form veteran racer Andre Compton in heat four before defeating Lasse Bjerre in the sixth heat. Bjerre was guesting for Sheffield’s injured No.1 Simon Stead.

Monarchs then grabbed their first heat win of the night in heat seven when Kevin Wolbert and Justin Sedgmen produced a 4-2 against Compton, who last week qualified for his first British Final appearance in over a decade.

However, Monarchs’ joy was short lived when their hosts hit back in the very next race when Compton and Sissis outpaced Erik Riss and Branford for Sheffield’s second 5-1 of the first half to lead 28-20.

Riss had been expected to make his mark round the vast and pacey Owlerton circuit but the young German, who is well used to riding larger tracks in Europe, struggled a bit with just two points for his efforts from four outings.

But Monarchs are often at their best when under pressure and Wolbert and Sedgmen conjured up their second 4-2 together over Bjerre in heat ten and this cut Monarchs’ arrears to just six points, 33-27.

And that gap was maintained when heats 11 and 12 were also split 3-3.

With no tactical rides permitted in the KO Cup, Monarchs were aware of the need not to get cast adrift and this they achieved with just three heats remaining.

And there was still precious little to separate them.

Compton handed Cook his first defeat of the night in heat 13 before Sedgmen won his first race of the match in the next heat defeating Jason Garrity with Sheffield clinging on 45-39.

Then Monarchs delivered a hammer blow to Sheffield’s hopes of making the next round when Cook and Wolbert took maximum points over Birks in heat 15 after Compton was excluded for coming off.

Monarchs are now in the driving seat with just two points to pull back.

Monarchs director Mike Hunter said: “Sheffield are very good at home but we kept things close and have given ourselves an excellent chance of progressing.”

Sheffield: Birks 12, Compton 12, Garrity 6, Sissis 6, Bjerre 5, Bates 5.

Monarchs: Cook 14, Wolbert 10, Masters 8, Sedgmen 7, Riss 2, Branford 2, Clegg 1.