Edinburgh Monarchs team boss Alex Harkess says the battle to reach the Premier League speedway play-offs is just beginning to hot up and the finishing order among the six sides in contention is impossible to predict at this stage ahead of tonight’s clash with Rye House Rockets.
Monarchs and Somerset Rebels are vying to clinch the important first and second positions which allows the choice of opponents when the six split into two mini groups of three once the play-off campaign gets underway later next month.
Monarchs have three matches in hand over current leaders Somerset, but have a vastly inferior points difference, and for Monarchs to cement their spot and be in with a chance of going for a fourth championship crown in eleven years, it’s imperative that they secure six points from their remaining two home fixtures and hope they pick up something on the road with visits to Workington, Ipswich, Newcastle, and Leicester still to come, and none of these trips can be classed as easy.
Although Monarchs and Somerset have opened up a small gap over the other four contenders, Harkess observed: “I’m not saying it will stay that way. Newcastle, for instance, are quite capable of closing in on the others.
“Our aim was to finish in the top six at the start of the season and that is still very much the case. Monarchs tackle Rye House Rockets at Armadale tonight, the Hertforshire outfit having seen their lingering play-off hopes finally extinguished last weekend when they could only manage a 45-45 home draw against Ipswich.
And with Mildenhall’s Josh Bates filling in for the crocked Mitchell Davey until the end of the season, Monarchs now have two scoring reserves in their ranks and this could prove priceless as they chase a possible league and cup double.
Davey, who broke his leg at Sheffield Tigers, was released from hospital on Tuesday after undergoing surgery on his right femur, and his long road to recovery now begins.
Monarchs are delighted to have secured Bates, and while the 17-year-old Barnsley teenager declined to sign on a permanent basis – for now at least – his seven-point score against Somerset last week suggested he will do a fine job for the Capital side at the tail-end.
“We are obviously looking towards 2014,” said Harkess. “And if Josh enjoys his time with us, and we already knows he likes riding Armadale, then he might want to spend more time with us next season. As everybody knows, if you can get a three-point rider snapped up at reserve for a new season, it can be a big step forward.
“But we are placing no pressure on him – he says he will go out and do his best and that is all we can ask. His reluctance to sign for us on a permanent basis is understandable because he has just started out in this sport. There are tracks he has not seen before in the Premier League and it would be unfair to expect miracles from him at those venues. We just hope he feels we will look after him and we will see what happens once this season is over.”
Bates said: “It’s great that Edinburgh are giving me this opportunity and it should prove an invaluable experience for me at senior level. I try to go in to every meeting with a positive attitude and that won’t change.”
Bates had the Lothian Arena hordes in raptures against Somerset, and his barnstorming win over Rebels’ No. 1 Jason Doyle set Monarchs up nicely for their 49-41 top-of-the-table victory and Harkess confessed: “It was a crucial home win for us, simply because Somerset are one of the best sides in the league and could finish in top spot – although that is by no means certain.
“You have to bear in mind we had already beaten them round their own track earlier in the season. Nonetheless, it was a very hard match. Everybody needed to chip in with something and that’s exactly what happened. The full three points we gained was vital.
“However, since the play-offs were introduced you don’t win anything for being top, but if you are not in the top six you won’t win the league either. Our priority is to remain in the top six and providing we don’t do anything stupid, that should be the case. But that means beating Rye House this evening and we need to take all three points.”
Skipper Derek Sneddon commented: “The Somerset result was huge for us. We knew it would be tough, but we fought for everything, and all the guys were fantastic. We just need to make sure we now keep this momentum going, especially at home.”
Rockets manager John Sampford, who is expected to welcome back broken-leg victim Jason Garrity to his line-up for the clash, said: “Edinburgh is going to be a toughie for us. I know they have dropped a few points at Armadale this year, but they are still at the top of their game.
“We will go there in the right frame of mind, though,and will give it our best shot.”