Speedway: Monarchs get in gear for a title charge

Joszef Tabaka is nearing a return for Edinburgh Monarchs.
Joszef Tabaka is nearing a return for Edinburgh Monarchs.
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IT’S hard to comprehend that Edinburgh Monarchs were rooted at the foot of the Premier League speedway table when August dawned.

Their quest to reach the championship play-offs looked a forlorn one with even their most fervent of supporters privately acknowledging that this was a season when the club would be mere bystanders as the battle for the league looked unlikely to involve them.

But an amazing transformation of fortune over the last few weeks culminated in Monarchs surging up the table to clinch the sixth and final qualifying position at the weekend and now a fourth league crown could be theirs for the taking.

Some people thought Monarchs co-promoter John Campbell was guilty of bombast when he repeatedly insisted his side would prove their critics wrong, but now it’s others who are shouting from the rooftops.

Campbell said: “I always thought we would get there because while we are not perfect we are so dominant round Armadale. Obviously losing at home to Scunthorpe was a disappointment but winning at Berwick Bandits the next night was a great recovery.”

The seeds of Monarchs onslaught on their rivals, and in particular Ipswich Witches who thought they were securely settled in sixth place, were sown at Leicester Lions early last month. Monarchs left with a point, picked up another one at Somerset and stunned everybody by winning at Sheffield Tigers before returning home to topple the two best teams in the league, Somerset Rebels and Newcastle Diamonds, on successive nights at Armadale.

Eleven points gained in what was a golden week resurrected Monarchs’ title credentials and Campbell recalled: “We just got on a roll and everything went well over these few days and that was a critical factor.

“There was a suggestion we were doing too many meetings in the same week, but if you are doing well it was a great time to be riding lots of matches.”

Yet evidence that Lady Luck can be a cruel mistress was never more reinforced when No. 1 rider Craig Cook and reserve Joszef Tabaka suffered wrist and hand injuries over the same weekend and suddenly it seemed Monarchs’ play-off aspirations had been chucked back in the melting pot.

But since that twin blow five weeks ago Monarchs have soldiered on superbly despite the fact that finding guests for the influential Tabaka has been a nightmare, covering for Cook has been easier.

Yet Campbell never entertained any idea that the loss of his two key stars would derail their charge to the play-offs, but did concede: “Choosing guests is always a game of chance. Kevin Wolbert did poorly guesting for Scunthorpe against us, yet he dropped just one point in nine rides for us in our success against Glasgow Tigers and Rye House Rockets on Friday. We couldn’t find any Premier League rider who could stand in for Jozsef – that’s how difficult it is covering for a reserve.”

Cook had a try out on Saturday but has decided not to risk returning to the saddle this week and has also pulled out of the Premier League Riders’ Championship at Sheffield on Sunday

“Craig was in a bit of pain and won’t race against Leicester and Rye House on Friday and Saturday because they are not vital fixtures in the light of us having already reached the play-offs,” added Campbell. “Craig says the most important thing is for us to win the play-offs and he wants to be absolutely sure he is fit for that. As for Jozsef he is confident he’ll be back on the 28th of this month.”

Monarchs will discover their play-off mini group opponents on Sunday and Campbell said: “There are certain things in place to establish the group winners, but any team who can win away from home will have a great chance of reaching the Grand Final and the chance to win the league.

“If we have Craig and Jozsef back it doesn’t matter who we race against, providing they return to the level they were at before they got injured.”