Edinburgh Monarchs completed their home Premier League programme with a convincing win over Leicester Lions at Armadale last night.
But the 55-38 scoreline belies the fact that Monarchs could not shake the Midlanders off in the first half after suffering a worrying blip which caused alarm bells to ring in the Capital camp.
Yet Monarchs got off to the best possible start when guest Aaron Summers and Derek Sneddon powered their way to a 5-1 in the opening race. And Monarchs must have thought they were on easy street when they led 18-6 after just four races. But the roof felt like it had caved in on Monarchs in heat five when Lions skipper Kauko Nieminen came out on a tactical ride leaving captain Matthew Wethers chasing air, and with teammate Jan Graversen finishing third, the Lions snared a big 7-2 advantage to close the gap to just seven points.
Worse was to come for Monarchs as the Lions also won the next two heats to trail by just a single point at 23-22. And Monarchs then enjoyed a huge stroke of luck in heat eight when Lions star Jan Graversen fell off with his side in a 5-1 position. Graversen was excluded from the re-run which Monarchs snatched with a 4-2, and this was an undoubted turning point in the meeting and stopped the Lions’ run of heat successes. It seemed as if Leicester then started to give points away when reserve Jari Makinen took a heavy tumble in heat nine, and with partner Magnus Karlsson taking a wobble on the same second bend, Monarchs swiped the race with a 5-1 from Theo Pijper and Wethers.
This seemed to steady the Monarchs’ ship and knocked the stuffing out of the Lions who, despite being lightning fast out of the gate, lost their command a bit over the latter part of the meeting.
The track once again seemed to catch some of the home riders out. Derek Sneddon, who slid off in his second yet still bagged seven points, said: “The track was a bit like riding on ice, it was very tricky but we got the win and that’s what mattered most.”
Indeed it was a solid scoring show from Monarchs with Andrew Tully topping their score chart with 12 points from his five starts. He said: “I struggled with my set-up a little bit but I was much better out of the gate at the end of the match, but this was a good win for the side and that’s what we wanted.” Wethers racked up eight points but still looked down on speed at times and he said: “The conditions were not really to my liking, it was pretty tricky out there, but all the guys plugged away and we won the races that mattered and pushed over the line with a bit to spare at the end.”
Marcel Helfer picked up five points from the tail-end position, two of them were total gifts. However the German did make a decent start in his first ride and comfortably defeated Makinen and Lewis Blackbird in heat two.
Nieminen was Leicester’s best performer with 12 points despite finishing a poor third in his opening ride. Former Monarch Magnus Karlsson had a night he’ll want to forget at his old stomping ground. He came to grief in the fourth heat when Blackbird drifted out wide taking his partner into the fence. Karlsson took a heavy knock and withdrew from the match after his third outing.
“I just know I felt pretty sore all over,” said Karlsson. “It was just a racing accident that could have been a lot worse that it actually was.”
It was later revealed that Makinen sustained a suspected broken collar bone following his fall in heat nine.
Monarchs, who could face Leicester in the play-offs, will be a bit worried at losing their concentration in that wobbly first half, although it never seemed likely that Leicester would repeat their shock win at the Lothian Arena of a year ago.
Pijper won the Man of the Match award, and scored a healthy 11 points, but wasn’t happy at trailing in last in his second ride. “After that I got going and I rode pretty well towards the end,” he said. ”We all chipped in with something, but once again track conditions were not in our favour.”
Byron Bekker stood in for Jozsef Tabaka, and the South African certainly could not be faulted for effort. He may only have three points against his name, but was worth at least double that score.
“I always enjoy coming back to Armadale,” said Bekker. “I love riding for Monarchs, I would have liked to have scored a few more points, but the track was a bit greasy and conditions were a bit tricky.”
Monarchs: Tully 12, Pijper 11, Summers 9, Wethers 8, Sneddon 7, Helfer 5, Bekker 3.
Leicester: Nieminen 12, Eklof 7, Makinen 7, Bjerre 6, Karlsson 4, Graversen 1, Blackbird 1.