Monarchs fail to secure Premier League title

Heat is on: Craig Cook leads Rebels' Josh Grajczonek. Picture: Ron MacNeill
Heat is on: Craig Cook leads Rebels' Josh Grajczonek. Picture: Ron MacNeill
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Somerset Rebels’ Oaktree Arena was buffeted by the storm winds and Edinburgh Monarchs’ bid to claim another speedway crown was blown off course in last night’s nailbiting Play-Off Grand Final second leg clash at Highbridge.

Defending a slim two-point lead from Friday’s first leg at Armadale, Monarchs put up a fantastic rearguard display but eventually went down 49-44 which handed the Premier League championship crown to the Rebels for the first time in their history 92-89 on aggregate score.

It was a sweet triumph for the Rebels who lost out on the title a year ago by just one point to Scunthorpe Scorpions and, as the champagne popped, no-one could begrudge the English side their moment in the sun, they have been the most consistent side in the league by some margin.

There is no doubt Monarchs gave their hosts a huge fright and, with two heats left, the Capital outfit were minutes away from claiming their fourth title but failed to get the brace of 5-1 advantages they required.

Monarchs will forever regret their inability to crush the Rebels at home. Inconsistent scoring, which has become something of a hallmark for Monarchs this term, ultimately undermined their title bid.

It was critical that Monarchs made a flying start in the opening heat, but No. 1 Craig Cook lifted at the start and retired from the race which gifted a 5-1 to the Rebels and, from a psychological perspective, this afforded them a huge lift.

Cook in fact has lost his fair share of heat one skirmishes but to criticise him for that given the massive contribution he has made to Monarchs this season, would be crazy.

Monarchs director Mike Hunter said his team did themselves proud. “We rode tremendously well and it was frustrating to come so close, to get within five points of Somerset at their place was a great result.

“But we really lost the title at Armadale on Friday, coming down with just a two-point advantage never looked likely to be enough, yet it nearly was.”

Hunter thought Somerset were there to be scalped especially on a heavy track which made passing extremely difficult. “Somerset did look as if they were a bit vulnerable, and any time we made a decent start we won races, however we did not make enough good starts.

“It would be fair to say that Somerset always seemed to have something in hand, but I have no quibble with their triumph, they are the right team to have won the league, but we could have beaten them given half a chance.”

Monarchs, who were handicapped to a degree by having to use the rider replacement facility for broken leg victim Jozsef Tabaka, at least banished the spectre of a possible heavy beating, and team manager Alex Harkess was sanguine afterwards, saying: “We showed exactly what we were capable of at Somerset, conditions were tricky and it all came down to who made the start. But it showed just how important the few points we threw away on Friday turned out to be.

“But I suppose any team will look back over 30 heats of speedway and single points that slipped away. We travelled down with an open mind, and I was certain we would not get whitewashed.

“We did however lose positions in some races and that should not have happened, but that is being hyper-critical because the boys fought really well. We did not do well enough at home and that’s what it boiled down to, but Somerset have been the most consistent team in the league. They changed their reserves late on in the season and that turned them into a winning squad.”

Monarchs Danish star Claus Vissing had his best match at his former track and scored 12 points, but he too agreed that Monarchs blew it at home. “We so wanted to win the league and were just a few points away from doing so. We should have got a bigger lead in the first leg, but all of us did our best and you can’t ask for more. It was good we didn’t just hand things on a plate to Somerset – we made them fight for the title.”

Special mention must be made of Monarchs’ guest reserve Liam Carr who won heat two in the fastest time of the night. “Liam was absolutely flying,” added Vissing. “And nobody could blame him for anything.”

Somerset: Doyle 11, Grajczonek 9, Davies 8, Newman 7, Morris 6, Wright 6, Greenwood 2.

Monarchs: Cook 14, Vissing 12, Sneddon 6, Pijper 6, Fricke 3, Carr 3.