Edinburgh Monarchs are aiming for a home run to clinch their place in the Premier League speedway play-offs and with it their dream of winning the championship crown for the third time in succession.
And six points is their priority in tonight’s double-header at Armadale against Redcar Bears, who earned a fine draw at Peterborough Panthers last week, and Plymouth Devils, both teams underneath them in the table.
For Monarchs’ ever optimistic team manager Alex Harkess the thought of missing out on the play-offs hasn’t entered his thinking despite the fact the battle for a top-six finish is far from clear cut with certain rivals sniffing at Monarchs’ heels. Asked if he senses danger, Harkess replied: “The only way we could fail to qualify is if we make a complete mess of things at home. I’d like to think we are nearly there.”
Monarchs’ hopes were boosted by picking up a point in their 33-27 loss at Newcastle Diamonds at the weekend, a match which was abandoned after ten races due to crashes involving Newcastle’s Lewis Rose and Monarchs rider Dan Bewley.
Said Harkess: “I did not expect us to take a point with the team we had down there and it was a real bonus to get it. And if we get six points this evening we are just about there.”
There is no doubt this has been a challenging year for Monarchs both on and off the track. And following the departure of Craig Cook and Justin Sedgmen last winter there was a real doubt that the team, who have dominated the Premier League over the past two years, could continue their monopoly of the second tier.
Harkess says he is not surprised by Monarchs’ resilience and their ability to respond when things go against them. “Our ambition for this year, as it is every year, is to get into the top six to give us a shot in the play-offs, we don’t set out to be top of the league. And if this team comes together by the end of the season we are capable of beating anybody.”
League leaders Somerset Rebels, who seem to haunt Monarchs like a ghostly spectre when it comes to the business end of the campaign, are now firm favourites to relieve Monarchs of their prized crown and have already clinched their seeding to the play-off semi-finals.
But as Monarchs and Somerset know from past experience anything can happen in a Grand Final showdown. Harkess said: “We have got to get there first! Then it’s often down to what happens on the night. Somerset have been very strong so far, nobody can dispute that, but we’ll just wait and see.
“I’m quite satisfied with the way we are going at the moment and hopefully things will work out for us when it matters most.”
Monarchs will be without skipper Sam Masters this evening.
The Australian has a big date in Sweden in 24 hours when he competes in the Grand Prix Challenge for a possible spot in the world championship series in 2017.
A top-five finish is the goal. Speaking in Monarchs’ match programme, Masters, who has been a model of consistency this season, said: “The Grand Prix Challenge is another new experience for me and I’ll go there and take it all in.
“If I qualify it will be a bonus and if I don’t I know what to expect next time. I have been gating well this year and they reckon the track in Sweden is all about gating.
“I have been drawn at number one which means I get two gate ones and a fresh track every time. It might be a disadvantage, we’ll see.”
Masters added: “If I get a top-five finish I might get a few Grand Prix opportunities next year, but what’s meant to be will be.”
Masters is replaced in the Monarchs team by Newcastle’s Swedish star Ludvig Lindgren and Belle Vue Colts rider Rob Shuttleworth steps in for the sidelined Dan Bewley who suffered concussion in his spill at Newcastle but expects to return to the saddle next Friday.
And Monarchs have also moved Ryan Fisher in their riding order to allow brothers Mark and Erik Riss to ride together which they were keen to do.