Monarchs aim to leave Glasgow at the tapes in final

The form of reserve rider Rob Branford and fellow reserve Max Clegg could be crucial for Monarchs
The form of reserve rider Rob Branford and fellow reserve Max Clegg could be crucial for Monarchs
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It is being billed as one of the biggest Scottish speedway derbies in decades.

But tonight’s League Cup final first-leg clash at Armadale between holders Edinburgh Monarchs and Glasgow Tigers is no more important than any other cup final, according to Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess.

“It is a derby and it is a cup final, but to me every other cup final is as big as the last one no matter who your are riding against. The fact that this one is against our nearest neighbours makes it doubly interesting.”

Asked which team has the most to lose, Harkess replied: “Both teams want to win and we are in contention again for all three major trophies this season. We set the standard when we won the treble in 2015 and we would like to do it again.

“Whether we can, only time will tell. Glasgow have not been in a major final for a long time and it’s a big event for them.”

Glasgow’s new owners chucked a truck load of cash at their squad this year with the sole aim of halting the run of success Monarchs have enjoyed against them, but Harkess isn’t convinced that this philosophy has unintentionally burdened the Tigers with a high degree of expectation.

“I’m not sure if I agree with that”, he said.

“Whilst we have done the treble once, when you reach a cup final it becomes important and you obviously want to win and that is what we want to do. What we have achieved in the past counts for nothing now.

“Glasgow chose to set their stall out to beat Edinburgh this season. We set our stall out to beat everybody. I think the two legs will close, it won’t be a one-sided affair, irrespective of what happens this evening.”

The Tigers have been a bit like a curate’s egg this season – good in parts.

Certainly their recent exit from the Knockout Cup quarter-finals at the hands of Newcastle Diamonds was something of a surprise and must have left them feeling slightly vulnerable.

However, Harkess insisted the Tigers will already have put that to the back of their minds.

“They will have forgotten about that for sure,” he said.

“We were not that much better against Newcastle ourselves in the semi-finals. We took a big 22-point lead down there and were under no degree of pressure which was a bonus for us and we have a tough [Knockout Cuo] final coming up next week against Somerset Rebels.”

The key factor which could unlock this first piece of silveware for Monarchs could be how well Monarchs reserve duo Max Clegg and Rob Branford perform.

Said Harkess: “Our top four are very strong, but Glasgow have good riders as well. Our reserves, as they proved last week against Berwick Bandits, are getting better and know what they need to do.”

Branford and Clegg netted nine points each against the Bandits and Clegg said: “I had some good rides and felt really comfortable on the track. And the big win we had gave everybody lots of confidence for the big matches ahead, starting with tonight.

“It’s going to be tough and of course Glasgow have already beaten us at home, but then we went through to Ashfield and did the same to them, it’s a big deal for both clubs.”

Harkess said the fact that Monarchs ended the league programme in pole position with the Tigers finishing third, could give them a psychological advantage.

“We were on top for most of the season, and while that doesn’t matter because it’s the play-offs which decide the champions, I feel we are a better side and will do enough to win. We should take it as a compliment that Glasgow focused so much attention on us. But we always aim to do our best against any opposition, whether it’s Glasgow or not.

“Although Glasgow did win at Armadale it’s what happens this evening that counts.”

Tigers team gaffer Stewart Dickson does not masquerade his desire to unseat Monarchs.

“I’m desperate to win especially as you have to go back to 1994 for the last time we both met in a major final (Tigers triumphing in the KO Cup)

“I think both matches will be massive.

“Edinburgh have been league and cup finalists for the last couple of years and it’s been a while since we reached such dizzy heights.

“I think the other teams in the Premier League must be envious that it’s an all-Scottish final. The likes of Peterborough, Sheffield and Somerset would have liked to have been in the final but were sorted out along the way.

“It’s the final I wanted and probably the final Edinburgh wanted.”

On the first-leg encounter, Dickson insisted: “Armadale does not intimidate us in the way it does some other teams and I will be telling my team to ride to their capabilities to reward the huge travelling support we will take through.

“We have never actually won the League Cup so our lads have the chance to create a bit of history. And I will be reminding my side of their responsibilities ten minutes before tapes up tonight. And because Edinburgh’s record at Ashfield is so good we will try and win the first leg; that has got to be our aim to get as many points as possible.”