Edinburgh Monarchs have work to do if they are to reach the Championship play-off finals after going down to Ipswich Witches in tonight’s semi-final first-leg tie at Foxhall Heath.
The Witches triumphed 50-40 but Monarchs achieved their objective of not losing by more than ten points which places Friday night’s deciding leg at Armadale very much on a knife edge.
In the other semi-final first-leg tie, Sheffield Tigers hammered Glasgow Tigers 59-31 at Owlerton Stadium and now look odds-on to make the final when they visit Ashfield for the deciding leg next Tuesday.
Monarchs suffered a big pre-match blow when Mark Riss was ruled out injured following a heavy crash at Wolverhampton on Wednesday, forcing them to use the rider-replacement facility as cover. This placed tremendous pressure on reserves Max Clegg and Mitchell Davey, who covered his rides.
Ipswich were still without Cameron Heeps and Justin Sedgmen, who are both crocked. Workington’s Mason Campton guested for Heeps while Ipswich also used rider-replacement to cover for Sedgmen.
Minus Mark Riss, who will make a late decision over whether or not he will ride in Friday’s deciding leg, it was essential Monarchs got off to a strong start.
But they lost a 4-2 in the opening heat when Witches No.1 Danny King won by a mile from Monarchs ace Ricky Wells, with Kyle Newman picking up the crucial third-place point over Josh Pickering.
And Ipswich repeated the trick in the second race when Nathan Greaves defeated Max Clegg and Connor Mountain claimed third place ahead of Mitchell Davey.
But the next two races were shared 3-3 with the Witches leading 14-10 overall.
However, the Witches stretched their lead when Newman and Campton grabbed a 5-1 in the fifth race.
But Erik Riss won the sixth race in fine style for Monarchs for a share of the spoils but track conditions were beginning to worsen.
After Sam Masters and Pickering collected Monarchs’ first 5-1 of the match in heat seven and reduced their arrears to just four points at 23-19, it started to rain heavily after this and referee Barbara Horley left the official box to make a track inspection.
But the rain eased and racing continued after some fresh shale was put down. Ipswich’s guest star Campton beat Pickering for a 3-3 and the gap remained at four points with the Witches leading 26-22.
It was a tight contest which has been the hallmark of their respective league clashes this season. And, after the next three races were shared, the Witches still held the upper hand by four points, 35-31, after 11 heats with Monarchs – the only team to beat Ipswich at home this term – more than holding their own.
But a 5-1 followed by a 4-2 for Ipswich with one race to go saw the Witches stretch their lead to ten points at 47-37. Masters won the last heat for Monarchs, maintaining that ten-point gap which is surmountable.
Ipswich: King 11, Schlein 11, Campton 10, Newman 9, Greaves 7, Mountain 2.
Monarchs: Masters 14, E.Riss 8, Wells 5, Pickering 5, Clegg 4, Davey 4.