Edinburgh Monarchs complete their Premier League home speedway programme against Berwick Bandits at Armadale tonight and the contrast in fortunes between both clubs could not be more stark.
Monarchs, who still have one away fixture to complete at Workington Comets, have already clinched their spot in the play-off semi finals and top the table. Only Peterborough Panthers, who have three matches in hand over the Capital squad, can knock them off their perch. However, the Panthers would have to win all their remaining five meetings, and some of them are tough.
Berwick are rooted third from the bottom after a season punctuated with injuries and doubts about their very future at Shielfield Park. They have called for fresh investment to keep the sport alive in the borders, but closure remains a real fear unless new funding is forthcoming.
But in a bid to try and end their campaign on an uplifting note they signed Rye House star Anders Mellgren in midweek to replace Alex Edberg. However, The Bandits, like so many visiting sides to Armadale this year, are still unable to track a complete line-up after their Swedish recruit Mathias Thornblom returned home following a neck injury sustained at Scunthorpe Scorpions seven days ago.
Berwick promoter John Anderson said: “We badly need a win to boost morale and attendances which is why we have decided to bring Anders up here. He will compete in our last five fixtures to beef up our squad and hopefully put some smiles back on a few long faces.”
The Bandits have been particularly vulnerable at home in 2015 and this has cost them dearly. And their hefty 56-37 home reverse last weekend against a Somerset Rebels outfit who were brushed aside 55-35 by Monarchs just 24 hours earlier told it’s own sorry tale.
Anderson seemed almost resigned to his side’s latest loss and reflected: “It was a case of well done to Somerset. They were so sharp from the gate that our general malaise from the tapes left us massively disadvantaged before the race had begun. And as a consequence we were left floundering.”
It’s no slur on Berwick to suggest Monarchs could easily surpass 60 points this evening. Monarchs returned to full strength a week ago when Sam Masters made his comeback from a hand injury which had kept him sidelined for six weeks. And after finishing third in his opening ride against the Rebels, the Aussie won his next ride and finished up with eight points in total.
“It was funny,” he said. “I felt quite nervous before the match probably because I hadn’t ridden for so long – it’s been a nightmare. But winning my second ride helped settle me down and I was fine after that. It just felt so good to be back. We are involved in the race for the league and also both cup competitions again and I want to play my part as I did last season.”
Masters then went on to score seven points for his Elite League club Leicester Lions in their 48-42 win against Wolverhampton Wolves the following night. Masters and his fellow countryman Justin Sedgmen have been both been named as reserves for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on October 24 and that means Monarchs could face a race against the clock to complete their domestic schedule before the duo fly home, especially if the weather intervenes.
It’s a recognition at least of the great form both riders have shown this year. Sedgmen, who truly blossomed during Masters’ enforced lay-off, is often his own harshest critic and was not entirely satisfied with his performance against Somerset.
“I dropped points in my second race in heat six,” he explained. “I managed to make a good start from the gate but got pushed out wide on the first corner which allowed the other riders through.
“I was at the back and while I managed to pass Paul Starke I couldn’t catch Josh Grajczonek. I was angry at that because I knew I wouldn’t be picked for the heat 15 top scorers’ race.
“Still, it was a good win for the team and we are riding well as we enter an important stage of the season.”
Sedgmen remains frustrated that he hasn’t been able to secure extra bookings on a regular basis this season, unlike his team-mates, five of whom were in action for other teams last weekend.
He added: “I feel just when I’m riding well I have a quiet spell. I’d much prefer to be riding all the time.”