The Premier League speedway Knockout Cup was the one trophy which Edinburgh Monarchs surprisingly let slip through their fingers last season when they lost to Somerset Rebels in the final.
Tonight at Armadale Monarchs begin their bid to recapture this particular piece of silverware which they last won in 2014. Their first round first leg opponents are Plymouth Devils with the deciding tie at the St Boniface Arena tomorrow night.
Considering the level of national success Monarchs have enjoyed over the past two years, the Knockout Cup has often eluded them and this has been a source of frustration for Monarchs co-boss John Campbell who often cites bad luck as the cause of their shortcomings in this competition.
Yet Campbell acknowledges that Plymouth have the capability to cause Monarchs further heartache and block their path to the quarter-finals.
The Devils were rocked last week when their Danish No.1 Charlie Gjedde sensationally quit the club saying British speedway was no longer for him.
It was a hammer blow coming so soon after the Devils were on the brink of closure.
But Gjedde’s sudden departure has ironically made the Devils a stronger team.
They have been able to call up former Monarch Steve Worrall as their guest. It could be a shrewd move.
He has been in good form for Newcastle recently and knows the Lothian Arena track inside out.
Plymouth have announced they will use Glasgow’s Ben Barker as guest tomorrow night.
Campbell said: “Probably Plymouth have been strengthened by Gjedde’s decision to leave. Plymouth get a guy who may well score double figures, something that Gjedde would not have got.”
Buoyed by their victory against the odds over Glasgow Tigers at home last week, Campbell his team can prevail over both matches. “Plymouth have been quite good at their own track this season and without question they will also have a very good guest for their own leg for sure.
“So we need a bit of a lead to take down there, half a dozen points would be challenging for us. Our home leg is absolutely critical to see if we can achieve a double-figure advantage or a lot more.”
Campbell is not taking Plymouth for fall guys but knows Monarchs’ win over the Tigers has sown the seeds of optimism that his transitional squad, once they all knit together, may not be the also-rans some have been gleefully predicting. And the Knockout Cup, only second in importance to the league championship, is an important goal for Monarchs.
One Armadale favourite, Ryan Fisher, will be keen to lead from the front. Fisher rode for the Devils in 2015 but returned home early to the States for family business reasons leaving the Devils short handed on the eve of their play-off clashes against Glasgow Tigers which they lost.
Opinion was divided over the situation but Campbell said: “Ryan is not the sort to hold grudges or anything like that. He treats every meeting just the same.
“Ryan certainly gave Plymouth a bit of a bad press when it was suggested he had left them in the lurch.
“However, that’s all behind him now and he will be determined, as he always is, to do well in each match he rides. Sometimes it works for him and sometimes it does not.”
Fisher has not done too much wrong since rejoining Monarchs but that hasn’t stopped some snipers taking aim. And while the Californian bagged eight points against the Tigers, Campbell observed: “It would have been nice if Ryan had scored more. But he won heat 13 which was crucial for us and it’s nice to know he is still capable of doing something like that.”
If Monarchs are looking for a surprise package to swing things their way then their teenage reserve star Dan Bewley could be the candidate.
Bewley missed the Tigers clash but returns tonight with praise ringing in his ears after his scoring exploits for Belle Vue Colts last weekend in the National League.
The youngster stormed to an 18 point maximum to help the Colts defeat Milldenhall then, 24 hours later, piled up 15 points from seven rides which clinched victory for the Manchester side at Rye House Raiders.
Could Bewley be Monarchs own little ‘devil’?