Ipswich Witches have not exactly been on fire so far this season but they proved too good for Edinburgh Monarchs in their Premier League speedway fixture at Foxhall Stadium last night – but only just.
The Witches scraped to a 48-45 victory against a Monarchs side who were badly depleted due to the loss of German ace Erik Riss, who was injured in a Grand Prix qualifying meeting on Monday.
Monarchs were forced to use the rider replacement to cover his absence, sharing his rides between Jye Etheridge and reserves Max Clegg and Dan Bewley. But Monarchs only gained one point from the facility, underlining just how much Riss was missed.
Captain Sam Masters said: “It was never going to be easy for us being without Erik but everybody tried their best and we were certainly not overwhelmed. I thought we did pretty well overall and got pretty close to them at the end and just missed out in a last-heat decider.”
The meeting took an age to run after a stoppage in the second race saw three riders come down. And, despite providing three race winners in the first six heats, Monarchs found themselves six points down, 21-15 at that stage with the Capital side’s top three having to work extremely hard to keep the Witches at bay.
But the home side started to exert their authority and produced their fourth 4-2 advantage of the night in heat 7 when Nico Covatti defeated Kevin Wolbert to stretch the Witches’ advantage to eight points, 25-17.
And that gap was maintained in the very next race when Lewis Kerr headed home Monarchs’ young reserve Dan Bewley, who rode well for his second place. Unfortunately for Monarchs, Jye Etheridge was struggling and failed to pick up anything from his opening two rides on a track he had not seen before and, because he is in the main body of the squad, this piled the pressure on Clegg and Bewley to perform at the tail-end. Etheridge did collect a point in heat ten after Witches star Kerr attempted to pass him and fell off.
Masters had won his first two rides but any hopes he had of going through the card unbeaten were dashed in heat 11 when Covatti lowered the Australian’s colours. With Monarchs now ten points in arrears, Wolbert was handed a tactical ride in the 12th heat. He scooped a big six-point haul by defeating Morten Risager but the Witches still led 41-34. and the rain which was beginning to fall was getting heavier making track conditions pretty tricky.
Wolbert’s victory gave Monarchs a 6-3 advantage, their first of the meeting.
And Monarchs then shocked their hosts in heat 13 when Masters and Ryan Fisher grabbed a 5-1 to trail by just three points, 42-39, setting up a nail-biting finish which intensified when Monarchs young Englishman Max Clegg defeated James Sarjeant in the penultimate race giving Monarchs a chance of winning the match.
But the Witches just clung on for victory when Danny King held off Masters and Fisher in a last-heat decider.
It was a great effort by the under-strength Monarchs who gave Ipswich some hard questions which they didn’t all answer. Monarchs also picked up a vital away match point which few thought achievable minus Riss.
Ipswich: King 12, Risager 9, Covatti 9, Kerr 5, Sarjeant 5, Castagna 5, Greenwood 3.
Monarchs: Masters 12, Wolbert 12, Fisher 11, Clegg 7, Bewley 2, Etheridge 1.