Edinburgh Monarchs’ dream of winning the Premier League title for a third time in a row was finally extinguished at Armadale Stadium tonight.
Needing to defeat Ipswich Witches by more than 26 points in their play-off quarter-final second-leg tie, Monarchs could not quite find the miracle they so badly needed.
And while they triumphed 53-37, Monarchs fell short of their target, sending the Witches through to the semi-finals and a showdown with Somerset Rebels.
Monarchs bosses met with their squad yesterday to emphasise the importance of the meeting. In truth, Ipswich did the spadework at Foxhall Heath in the first encounter and stuck to their plan of conservative speedway with just the odd risk of daring racing.
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess said: “It was a disappointing result. We had picked up momentum early on, but threw away silly points which you simply cannot do under the circumstances.
“But the damage was done in the first leg. We tried our best and got stuck in, but conditions were not easy for the riders. And had we scored what Ipswich got at our track in the first tie, we’d be through to the semi-finals, but that’s the way it goes.”
With rain falling before the start, track conditions were very wet and certainly not conducive for Monarchs to go for broke. Their hopes of getting off to a 5-1 flier in the opening heat were dashed when Witches’ No.1 Danny King took the chequered flag ahead of Monarchs’ top pairing of Sam Masters and Ryan Fisher and the resultant shared 3-3 was just what the visitors wanted to calm any nerves they may have had despite the huge advantage they were defending.
Monarchs grabbed a 4-2 in heat 2 to lead 7-5, but already caution was the watchword as the riders slithered round for four laps. Monarchs increased that gap to six points with a 5-1 from Erik and Mark Riss in the third race, but visibility was proving a problem.
Witches ace King knew gating was the key to avoid getting filled in and won his second outing in heat 5 for another shared heat, which kept Monarchs eight points in front following a 4-2 from Kevin Wolbert and Ben Hopwood in the previous race. Yet Monarchs, sensing that the soggy conditions were perhaps not to Ipswich’s liking, rammed in a 5-1 from Masters and Fisher in heat 6 and now led 24-12 and were inching nearer to their rivals.
It was short-lived optimism, however, as Witches duo Morten Risager and Nico Covattie flew from the tapes to grab their side’s first 5-1 of the match in the next heat, cutting Monarchs’ lead back to eight points.
Monarchs seized a 4-2 in heat 9, but were only really nibbling at the Witches’ first-leg total, although another 5-1 from Masters and Fisher in heat 10 put Monarchs 14 points in front and just 12 down on aggregate.
However, another 5-1 for Ipswich courtesy of James Serjeant and King in heat 11 all but spelled the end for Monarchs, who needed maximum advantages from the remaining four heats to tie the overall scores over both legs.
And when Covatti triumphed for Ipswich in heat 12, Monarchs’ reign as defending league champions was over.
Monarchs: E Riss 12, Masters 10, Fisher 9, M Riss 8, Wolbert 6, Clegg 5, Hopwood 2.
Ipswich: King 10, Covatti 8, Sarjeant 6, Risager 6, Barker 5, Jacobs 2, Coles 0.