Edinburgh Monarchs are gearing up to make a final push to reach the speedway play-offs.
They face Workington Comets and Ipswich Witches in a double header at Armadale tonight before hitting the road to face Berwick Bandits and Scunthorpe Scorpions on Saturday and Sunday.
Monarchs have slipped down to fifth position in the league, overtaken by Redcar Bears who lead them by two points. The Teessiders have ridden four more matches than Monarchs and, crucially, have put the points on the board.
It means Monarchs must take all six points on offer this evening and they cannot afford any slip-ups if they are to reclaim that fourth and final qualifying spot.
Team manager Alex Harkess said: “I’d like to think it’s in our hands and by the time the four matches are over this weekend we will have pulled clear of Redcar again and taken fourth spot – that is certainly the plan.”
Asked if Monarchs are deserving of fourth position, Harkess replied: “At the end of the day the fourth spot is yours because you have scored more league points than anyone else.
“We aim to fill that position ourselves, that has always been our aim.”
Workington are first up this evening and, given that their form has gone through the floor of late they, on paper at least, they should not cause Monarchs too many problems.
Said Harkess: “It’s fair to say that Workington have been having an up and down time of late, and that’s putting it politely. But both matches are in our hands, it’s up to us to win them.”
The visit of Workington sees Craig Cook returning to Armadale for the first time this season and his presence will add some extra spice to the clash. Certainly Cook has not received the solid support he wanted at the start of the season and on occasions has carried the Comets on his own.
Harkess said: “Craig cannot win a match on his own, he only gets five rides and therefore can only score 15 points at best. You need 45 points to get something. But, as everyone knows, Craig is capable of anything round our place.”
Cook is still an Edinburgh asset so is it feasible he could be tempted back to ride once again for Monarchs some time in the future, however, Harkess thinks not: “Craig is finding the doubling up with Belle Vue Aces in the Premiership quite tiring, so a return to Edinburgh is unlikely I would think.”
Monarchs will be at full strength for the first time in weeks with skipper Sam Masters back to lead the side. Harkess said: “We will have a full team and that will be nice for a change. Sam of course returned from his collarbone injury for Wolverhampton last week but seems to have been dogged by engine problems which I hope he has sorted out, but his influence in the pits has been missed and it’s great to have him back.”
Ipswich are minus Cameron Heeps and Justin Sedgmen with injuries but they are not any weaker after recruiting Workington’s Thomas Jorgensen as a guest for Heeps and using rider replacement for Sedgmen.
Harkess said: “Ipswich are unfortunate to be carrying two injuries and we cannot assume that we will defeat them.”
The trips to Berwick and Scunthorpe would have been seen as guaranteed victories a while back, but both clubs have regrouped and nothing will be taken for granted.
Said Harkess: “No away match is ever guaranteed. You go to these places hoping you can come away with something, that is always the plan.”
Rampant Sheffield Tigers will top the league at the cut-off date of qualification on September 18 and will have the choice of semi-final opponents.
It had been assumed they would choose Monarchs by virtue of winning at Armadale a few weeks ago, but their stunning success at Glasgow last weekend might alter their thinking.
Harkess added: “That may change with Ipswich and Glasgow both carrying injury problems and Monarchs having a full team again, who knows what might be in Sheffield’s mind.”
Monarchs’ second visit to Peterborough Panthers is still to be arranged but it will not now happen until after the play-off qualification deadline.