Edinburgh Monarchs were confronted with a super-slick track at Armadale last night and as a consequence their Premier League Knockout Cup hopes may have turned to dust after they lost 45-44 to Newcastle Diamonds in a dramatic quarter-final, first-leg tie.
Monarchs, as they did at Somerset on Tuesday, must now climb another mountain to stand any chance of reaching the semi-finals when they travel to Brough Park for tomorrow’s do-or die-deciding leg.
On a night when Monarchs needed everything to go smoothly the exact opposite happened, especially over the first five races when they had four fallers, and this loss of points was a self-inflicted wound they never really recovered from.
For instance, Claus Vissing came to grief twice, although he landed ever so lightly on both occasions, leading some to suggest he simply didn’t have the appetitie for certain confrontations. The Dane really must get his head round conquering Armadale, if he does not, he is going to turn into one big liability which Monarchs simply cannot afford to carry or persevere with.
But Vissing wasn’t the only Monarch culpable of not ‘showing up’ as skipper Derek Sneddon was less than convincing and after a last place in his opening ride could only manage three third spots from his remaining rides.
Newcastle, who were pretty physical and looked far more hungry than their hosts, had stormed into a 29-18 lead at the halfway stage and looked as if they would end up routing Monarchs who were guilty of the old story about not being able to get out of the gate. But this is becoming a hackneyed excuse, the arid conditions were the same for both teams and Monarchs have to accept and adapt to the track to carve out the result they want to achieve.
Let’s not forget Newcastle are a very good side and this was never going to be a stroll in the park for Monarchs, and suggestions that a 20-point home lead was attainable was pure poppycock as it turned out.
Newcastle increased their advantage to 11 points with five races to go, but Monarchs dug in over the final stretch of the match and managed to grab their one and only 5-1 advantage of the night in the last race when Craig Cook and a still unfit Theo Pijper defeated Stuart Robson and Richie Worral. And that success slashed Newcastle’s winning margin to just a single point and keep the door ever so slightly ajar for the return leg.
Newcastle team manager George English was furious after the result, claiming referee Jim McGregor got a host of crucial decisions wrong.
“It was a travesty of a scoreline and we deserved to win by more,” said English. “I thought the referee had an absolute nightmare of a meeting.”
Asked to be more specific, English replied: “Where do I start? The only thing I can safely say is that the quarter-final ties will not go to a replay.
“I’m pleased we won but I’m not daft, and realise we still have a lot of work to do at our place tomorrow.”
With Monarchs’ track curator Alan ‘Doc’ Bridgett in the dock again over the state of the track surface, Cook was anguished at how Monarchs have managed to lose at home for the last two weeks.
“Alan normally gets the track spot on, but something went wrong last night,” he said. “Newcastle were sublime out of the gate. It was mentally despairing that we should put in so much hard work and effort yet still lose.
“We should not be getting beaten at home, end of. How can we go to Somerset and pull off a great win then come back to our own place and lose?
“The track was so dusty, there were no racing lines and no passing, it was so frustrating, I’m well cheesed off.”
Cook added: “But it’s only the Knockout Cup, we are not bothered about that, our main aim is to win the Premier League. Saying that, the pressure is all on Newcastle to beat us tomorrow night and it won’t be easy despite what’s happened to us at home.”
Cook was surprisingly beaten twice, by Ludvig Lingren in heat ten, and also yielded to Stuart Robson three races later. “Couldn’t do anything about,” said Cook. “No dirt to pass on.”
Max Fricke took a heavy tumble in his first ride which shook him up for the rest of the meeting and Jozsef Tabaka also crashed into the fence on the third bend in heat 14 but escaped it seems without serious injury.
Vissing did win a race, his easiest of the night against Christian Henry and Lewis Kerr in heat 12.
Monarchs: Cook 13, Pijper 9, Tabaka 6, Fricke 6, Vissing 4, Sneddon 3, Bates 3.
Newcastle: Robson 10,Kerr 9, R Worrall 8, Lindgren 7, Tully 6, Henry 3, S Worrall 2.