BERWICK BANDITS had Edinburgh Monarchs on the ropes in their Premier League Knockout Cup quarter-final first-leg tie at Shielfield Park last night.
However, the Capital speedway oufit pulled themselves off the floor in the second half to escape with a 51-39 defeat which they feel confident about overturning in tomorrow’s deciding leg at Armadale.
On a track which did not lend itself to any degree of passing, Berwick started strongly and were 10-2 in front after just two heats.
Too often Monarchs were stranded at the gate, making it almost impossible to rein in their hosts, who looked intent on avenging their League Cup loss to Edinburgh earlier in the season.
Berwick felt they missed a golden opportunity to ram home their early superiority, especially as Monarchs No.1 Craig Cook made a miserable start to proceedings by trundling in third in his opening three outings.
The Cumbrian ace looked to be down on pace, but normal service was restored in heats 13 and 15 when he took the chequered flag.
Those two victories not only offered Monarchs a sliver of salvation but they stopped the Bandits from running away with the match.
On a night when Monarchs were some way below their best and missing their recent ruthlessness, Berwick were given a chance to make hay. They looked like doing so until Monarchs grabbed three 4-2 advantages late on when their hosts were well on top.
Monarchs also had some bad luck, notably in heat three when Steve Worrall and Max Fricke were in front until Bandits star and former Monarchs rider Matty Wethers made a complete mess of the first turn.
His error seemed worthy of a disqualification, but instead it was all four back and Wethers, who was also given almost six minutes to fix his bike, won the rerun just to rub salt into Monarcs’ wounds. Only Justin Sedgemen seemed capable of flashing out of the gate and the Aussie’s two race wins were fully deserved.
Berwick’s outstanding performer was Czech Republic reserve Matej Kus, who blew his Monarchs counterparts away with a barnstorming 17-point haul from seven rides.
On the one occasion when Kus couldn’t make the gate, he too was tripped up by his own track and trailed in last behind Monarchs’ Californian racer Aaron Fox, who failed to set the heather alight.
Monarchs currently look a tad fragile at the tail-end and skipper Derek Sneddon had a meeting to forget as he could only muster a single point.
As ever, he was candid about his performance. “We would have liked the score to have been a lot closer, but Berwick were on fire and some of us were not up to our game, certainly myself, and a couple of others,” said Sneddon.
“It was all about making starts and the track was the slickest I’ve seen at Berwick for a few years. For some reason, although the track was slick, all our boys were complaining that their bikes were as as flat as pancakes, and there was a hell of a lot of work going on in the pits by everybody to try and get the bikes to rev. I rode two bikes in two races and both were as bad as each other.”
Reflecting on the two 5-1s Monarchs lost at the start of the match, Sneddon added: “That meant we were up against it from the word go, but a 12-point deficit, especially round Armadale is not impossible to pull back.
“Berwick were certainly up for it and hats off to them. But it was just so hard to overtake and we all struggled with our bike set-ups.
“If you were left at the start and you hadn’t pulled anything back after a lap, you were as well just pulling up on the centre green.
“Berwick were more on the ball with their set-ups than we were. It will be a totally different kettle of fish tomorrow.
“I know the boys are hurting, but we’ll be in our own backyard and we’ll be looking to give them a bit of a battering.”
Bandits team manager John Anderson said: “Given the strong top five that Edinburgh have, I’m happy with the outcome, but we could have done with a few more points.
“Whether we have done enough to see us through the second leg, I don’t know, but Edinburgh will be the team who have to chase us tomorrow.”
Berwick: Kus 17, Doolan 9, Wethers 8, Vissing 7, Bellego 6, Jensen 2, Carr 2.
Monarchs: Cook 9, Fricke 7, Sedgmen 7, Masters 7, Worrall 6, Fox 2, Sneddon 1.