Edinburgh Monarchs manager Alex Harkess has told his team they must “step up” in the wake of their shock 46-44 loss to Workington Comets at Armadale seven days ago.
If they don’t start showing signs of improvement then Harkess fears Monarchs will end up as also-rans in the Championship.
Disappointment was etched all over his face as he entered the pits after last week’s match and he has told his riders in no uncertain terms that he expects them to show more grit and determination beginning with tonight’s league clash against Newcastle Diamonds which begins a run of league and cup matches that may well define the club’s season.
Reflecting on the Workington fixture, Harkess said: “I was disappointed as anybody would have expected me to be. Workington scored more points than us. Our riders are simply not scoring as they should.
“While our captain Erik Riss did okay, our other heat leaders did not win enough races and it’s not the first time this has happened. And the other four members of the side had too many last places. They have got to correct those issues.”
Monarchs, in truth, only have two heat leaders (Erik Riss and Ricky Wells) but Harkess pointed out: “On paper, we should have three heat leaders and you have to count that as somebody who should be winning races. Mark Riss, for instance, won his first race well enough but was nowhere after that which was a big disappointment because he is our unofficial third top rider.”
There is frustration to a degree that Australian Josh Pickering has simply not pushed on from 2017. Said Harkess: “I don’t know what’s gone wrong with Josh, and the rest of them are just not progressing as we had hoped.
“It’s hard to believe that this is the same team who won at Glasgow Tigers recently but they have not kicked on. You are only as good as your last match. After the Glasgow win, I thought we were going in the right direction but, after our display against Workington, I’m not so sure.”
Harkess has concerns over Monarchs’ home performances and feels they are a soft touch around their own circuit.
“We couldn’t qualify for the Championship Shield anyway against Workington but it was our display that I was worried about. We have got to get back into the habit of winning at Armadale – and we must kill off teams. Instead, we are allowing teams to be in with a chance of winning with three heats to go as was the case against Workington.
“It was disappointing in the regard that Workington’s riders are big-track specialists who nevertheless rode well enough to beat us at home.
“Full credit to Workington who deserved their win, but we were well below par.
“We have got to step up now, it’s league and cup matches from now on. There will be no more freebies like last week, we must win at home.”
American Max Ruml drops down to reserve swapping places with Pickering starting this evening.
“Max has become a concern and we are concerned about him,” added Harkess. “Max is at reserve now and that is a position you expect people to make their own to try and get back into the team proper.
“We were aways going to be disappointed if any of our reserves got pushed into the team. Now Josh has been pushed into the team, but it’s not down to his own endeavours. He has been pushed up because other people are poorer. It’s different if you get into the team because you are very good and deserve the promotion. That’s not the case in this instance.”
If Ruml doesn’t start firing at No.7, one wonders about his future. Monarchs have made a big investment in bringing him over and won’t want to release him early.
Newcastle have often been a perennial thorn in Monarchs’ flesh over the years, especially at Armadale, and Harkess warned: “Nobody is easy for us at the moment the way we are riding. We are a better team than last week and we have got to get better from here on in. “
Some Monarchs riders were unhappy about the state of the track – particularly at the starting gate – last week following a decision to soak it 24 hours earlier to keep down the dust.
Mark Riss said: “I made good starts early on, but I struggled after that, I just couldn’t get going and Workington were quicker from the starts.” Younger sibling Erik was also less than enamoured with conditions. But Harkess added: “It was the same for both teams. Whenever there is a problem with the track it’s the home riders who are affected most. The away riders just get on with and accept it.”
Monarchs conclude their Championship Shield qualifying campaign at Berwick Bandits tomorrow and then travel to Newcastle on Sunday in the return league fixture.