Edinburgh Monarchs are fighting for survival in this year’s League Cup speedway competition, with team manager Alex Harkess admitting: “It has probably come too early for us having a new team.”
Monarchs, the reigning holders, have lost their first two qualifying group fixtures and unless they overcome Glasgow Tigers tonight at Armadale and defeat their conquerors of last week, Berwick Bandits at Shielfield Park tomorrow night, their already slim hopes of making the semi-finals will be dashed.
Berwick’s shock 46-44 triumph at the Lothian Arena seven days ago, only their second triumph there in 18 years, has pushed Monarchs to the brink of elimination.
But Harkess still felt the Capital side should have had enough in their collective tanks to prevail.
He said: “It was a blow without question, and it did not help that the track was wet. We should have beaten them.
“Conditions suited Berwick who were also quicker out of the gate. Their two biggest scorers (Matthew Wethers and Theo Pijper) are former Edinburgh riders and that’s what won them the match.”
He continued: “The cup matches were always going to be difficult for us because we felt we would be vulnerable at the start of the season. We are certainly not favourites to finish top of our group and we are fighting to stay in it.
“We really need to pick up seven match points in total this weekend to have a chance of going through. But even that might not be enough because of the possibility that Glasgow will go to Berwick next week and win. So the situation really is not in our hands.”
Glasgow’s 56-37 thumping of Monarchs two weeks ago at Ashfield has prompted fears that they could repeat the trick this evening. And should that happen Monarchs will begin the defence of their championship crown against Workington Comets next week with two home cup loses against their name. Not ideal.
Harkess says: “Glasgow will be favourites tonight because so many of our riders have not mastered Armadale yet, but it will come.”
Monarchs skipper Sam Masters has started the 2016 campaign in fine style with two thumping double-figure scores but the Aussie’s hard graft has not been matched so far by his team-mates.
“It would be impossible to carry on like this because that is not what we are expecting,” added Harkess. “I’m sure some of the others will do a lot better than they managed last week.
“Our middle order have got to start doing what we signed them to do and I’m sure they will get better.”
Ryan Fisher, who returned to Monarchs this season, only managed six points against Berwick which was something of a disappointment.
“Ryan just couldn’t get his bike going,” said Harkess. “But he sorted out his problems 24 hours later when he scored 12 points guesting for Berwick against Newcastle. It could be a good omen for us.”
There also has to be an acceptance among Monarchs fans that their team’s two most inexperienced newcomers, Dan Bewley and Jye Etheridge, will take time to settle in at Premier League level.
Harkess said: “It’s hard to assess Jye and Dan because we simply have not seen enough of them yet. Jye has been in contention in some races, but fallen off. Over the next two or three weeks we will have a better idea of how they are both progressing.
“The fact is if you have an established team who have a better idea of what is going on you have a better chance of doing well in something like the League Cup.
“It also did not help that our opening challenge fixture against Belle Vue was washed out. Realistically our League Cup campaign started last week and could be all over this week.”
Fisher, meanwhile, has announced that fellow American Billy Janniro is the first rider on the roster to help celebrate his Testimonial meeting at Armadale in June.
Fisher and Janniro were former team-mates at Coventry Bees and Fisher said: “Billy was the No.1 guy I wanted because we are pretty close. He signed for Coventry the year before I did and when I went there we stayed together for a while, we had also raced together when we were kids.”