Edinburgh Monarchs polished off Newcastle Diamonds at Brough Park last night to book their place in the Premier League Knockout Cup Final, where they will face Ipswich Witches in the first leg at Foxhall Heath on Thursday with the deciding tie at Armadale 24 hours later.
After steamrollering their way to a 62-27 semi-final first-leg victory over Newcastle at home on Friday, the return clash was rendered almost academic. But Monarchs, who could easily have taken their foot off the pedal, did exactly the opposite and beat the Tynesiders 46-44 to complete a comfortable 108-71 triumph on aggregate.
Newcastle team manager George English admitted his side had “lost face” at Armadale due to the scale of their defeat and demanded victory to appease their disgruntled supporters. And although they came up short again, at least they made Monarchs fight for their victory this time, and actually led 33-27 after ten heats.
But as has happened so often in what is proving a remarkable season for the Monarchs, they refused to countenance any talk of defeat and pulled things around over the last five races.
And the fightback started in heat 11 when Crag Cook and partner Justin Sedgmen grabbed a 4-2 over Ludvig Lindgren and Simon Nielsen. When Max Fricke and Aaron Fox followed suit in the next race, Monarchs had reduced the arrears to 37-35 and Newcastle’s sense of anxiety was almost palpable, and justified.
Cook and Sam Masters effectively killed their hosts’ chances of success stone dead when they pulled off a telling 5-1 advantage against Danny King and Lindgren in heat 13 to inch ahead 40-38, the first time they had regained the lead since the opening race. The final two heats were shared and Monarchs maintained their record of never having lost to the Diamonds in 2014.
But today Monarchs boss John Campbell admitted he was slightly worried at going six points down and feared his side were taking things easy because they were sitting on a huge first-leg lead that Newcastle stood no chance of overturning.
He told the Evening News: “When we went behind it looked a bit of a problem and as has happened before this season, they believed they could lose the match and they didn’t want that to happen, so they got more involved and, but for Craig (Cook) suffering an engine failure in heat 15, we would have beaten Newcastle more easily in the end.
“I actually said to my co-promoter Alex Harkess halfway through the match that this was ridiculous. It didn’t matter what we did. We were in the final, yet it was vital that we won.
“And that attitude harked back to earlier in the season. We are not breaking records or anything like that now, but we had set down a marker and are a very difficult team to beat.”
Campbell continued: “It’s difficult to tell the boys you are going to lose the meeting if you don’t get more involved, they reply ‘we can’t, we can’t, we’re going to win’.
“We actually had a chat at the interval and the team kept repeating how they wanted to win, and this is exactly what they did at the end.”
Campbell said he was taken by surprise at just how easily Monarchs tore the Diamonds to shreds at Armadale. “To be fair I thought it would be much closer than it was, but track conditions were not good and Newcastle just switched off,” he said.
“But, to be fair, Newcastle made a fight of it this time and it was a highly competitive meeting. They were keen to win, obviously, after Friday and their No. 1 Danny King came through a very difficult night after finding it hard to win.”
Cook’s mishap in the last heat shouldn’t hide the fact that he was once again superb round Brough Park and reeled off four victories on the bounce. But it was his team-mate Masters who reigned supreme as Monarchs’ top performer with 13 points from five outings which included a trio of race wins and the Aussie is simply immense at the moment. Fellow countryman Max Fricke picked up nine points but wasn’t entirely overjoyed with his display.
He said: “It wasn’t too bad but it annoyed me that I got second places in my first three rides, but I was happier when I got a win in my last race. To make it through to another final is great and hopefully we can add to the League Cup we won last week.
“Although we had a big first-leg lead to play with, we don’t go anywhere to lose as we have shown already this year. Everybody chipped in and worked together to get the points we need to win.”
He added: “We are all looking forward to meeting Ipswich. We got a draw in the league there earlier in the season. We are all up for it and are definitely going back to win.”
Newcastle: Lindgren 10, King 9, Pijper 9, Nielsen 7, Robson 5, Greaves 4.
Monarchs: Masters 13, Cook 12, Fricke 9, Worrall 5, Sedgmen 4, Sneddon 2, Fox 1.