Monarchs’ push for top spot heats up

Theo Pijper, left, and Kevin Wolbert, will make a return to Armadale in Glasgow colours. Photograph: Ron MacNeill
Theo Pijper, left, and Kevin Wolbert, will make a return to Armadale in Glasgow colours. Photograph: Ron MacNeill
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Edinburgh Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess today warned his riders not to be complacent ahead of tonight’s Premier League speedway derby against Glasgow Tigers at Armadale.

And that’s because the Tigers’ tails are up in the wake of their suprise victory at Workington Comets a week ago which has given them a slim, but mathematical chance of claiming a top-six finish and entry into the championship play-offs which gets underway next month.

But the odds on the Tigers smashing Monarchs unbeaten home record seem remote. Monarchs have not lost against their oldest rivals so far this season and Harkess is determined to keep that sequence going.

He said: “Glasgow got a drubbing at Newcastle on Monday, nonetheless their success at Workington will have done them some good. But we are not looking to drop any points against them.

“On paper Glasgow have a few riders who ride Armadale well, including Kevin Wolbert and Theo Pijper who of course are ex-Monarchs stars. But Glasgow have not produced the goods at Armadale in the past, however that doesn’t mean we will go into the meeting thinking victory is ours by right, we will give Glasgow due respect.”

The Tigers line-up has changed since their last Lothian Arena visit two months ago. Injuries and departures have seen Finn Tero Aarnio and Swedish prospect Victor Palovaara brought in to bolster their play-off push and the latter grabbed his first heat win for the Ashfield outfit two weeks ago.

Harkess is unconcerned by their new look, insisting: “ You would have to ask Glasgow what they think of their current squad and how well they are going. I’m only interested in my team and just want a fully fit seven man line-up to go out and do the business for us.”

He added: “Obviously if some of Glasgow’s team ride to their true capabilities, which has happened before, it could be a very interesting match.”

The fight to finish at the top of the league before the September 15 cut off date for the play-offs now looks to be intense after Somerset Rebels pulled seven points clear of Monarchs at the weekend.

Monarchs, who crucially have four matches in hand over Somerset, are determined to reclaim pole position having led the table for the majority of this year.

It would also give them first pick of their play-off group opponents and that choice would almost certainly be Berwick Bandits who they beat convincingly 57-32 seven days ago.

Harkess said: “Somerset have very few away meetings left. They and ourselves will in all probability win our remaining and respective home fixtures. So it will boil down to what points can be picked up on the road.

“We have several away meetings to complete, all are winnable, and I would be hopeful of collecting something from them all. A seven-point gap may sound a lot but it’s only the equivalent of one home and one way win.

“Our aim at the start of the season was to finish in the top six, we have done that, but having been at the top of the table for so long we have no intention of giving it away at this late stage, and I believe we can overhaul Somerset and go back to the top.”

If Monarchs are to succeed in this aim then it is imperative that there is no slippage in form, either collectively or individually. And despite No.1 Craig Cook falling slightly from the dizzying heights of 2013, Harkess has no fears over the Cumbrian’s ability to lead from the front again over the remaining two months of the season, which could see Monarchs lift a fourth league crown and two cups.

It’s no secret that Cook has be wrestling with clutch problems and his sluggishness from the gate has certainly impacted on his home scoring.

“Craig is playing about with his clutches,” Harkess revealed. “It’s all about getting off the start line, but he keeps dabbling with them.

“I’m not techincally minded, but Craig is struggling to get his set-up right which I don’t quite understand when it had been right for so long. I’m sure he will work through it.

“It’s down to your head and making sure everything is right, speedway is all about being mentally correct as well and once you start to get doubts that something is wrong, it can play on your mind.

“But nobody is writing off Craig and why should they. He was brilliant at Newcastle recently, scoring a four-ride maximum, and he was tremendous guesting for Poole Pirates in the Elite League, and doubtless Craig will get past this very quickly. He sets himself high standards and wants to live up to them every week, sometimes it doesn’t always happen.”