report from The Evening News
IT’S unlikely that Edinburgh Monarchs fans would have allowed Carl Stonehewer to put his hand in his pocket for a round of drinks in the Armadale speedway bar last night.
The Workington rider - guesting for Frede Schott - was the toast of the Lothian arena after winning a tense last heat decider against Glasgow Tigers to keep the Spring Trophy in the clutches of the Capital outfit.
But it was nail-bitingly close. Monarchs’ 48-45 victory saw them retain the silverware by just a single point on aggregate.
Two points behind after ten heats, Monarchs produced a string of successes to lead 44-34 with two races left.
Using the new tactical rules, the Tigers drafted in ace Shane Parker as a substitute in heat 14. The classy Australian - starting from 15 metres back - picked off Monarchs pair Theo Pijper and Matthew Wethers to take the chequered flag.
Doubling his points and with partner James Grieves finishing second, this 8-1 advantage slashed the Monarchs’ lead to a measly three points. However, Stonehewer and team mate Peter Carr are no strangers to crunch situations and their heat 15 showdown against Parker and Tigers captain George Stancl exuded an almost palpable frisson.
With Carr off the outside gate and trying to nip inside Stancl on the first bend and failing, Stonehewer suddenly burst clear and breathed fresh air all the way to the finishing line. The resultant 3-3 was good enough to thwart a Tigers team who momentarily believed they stood on the brink of ending Monarchs’ long winning sequence against them.
The Armadale outfit’s ability to dig deep under pressure resurrected the resolve they displayed on their way to the League Championship crown last season.
Their win was all the more remarkable considering heat leader star Rory Schlein was pointless after his first two races. Acknowledging that Stonehewer "saved our backsides", Schlein, who blossomed towards the end, notably in an exhilarating mechanical game of chess against Parker in heat nine, said: "I made the wrong choice of bike, yet it’s the one I normally use when the track is slick - but it just wasn’t working. So I switched to my new bike I used on press day and it went like a rocket ship. I think I’ll stick with that now!"
Although he ultimately yielded to Parker, Schlein added: "I had him on at least two occasions during the race but our scrap was at least good for the fans and hopefully I will be sharper out of the starts next week. The track wasn’t ideal - but that is no excuse, I’m paid to get round it. I know my five point return doesn’t look good on my score card but at least in my last two races I was starting to feel on top again. I think a few of us got caught out by the track but it worked out fine at the end of the night.
"We won what was our first home meeting and also kept hold of our trophy. But I do feel I let the team down in my first two outings. We had to dig deep and Carl certainly saved our skins, he was a tremendous guest."
Following their thumping Premier Trophy win at Hull in midweek, Parker opined that the Tigers genuinely thought they had the beating of Monarchs. He said: "Our victory at Hull had fired us up and it was a bit depressing to have gone so close against Monarchs and miss out at the end of the day. I think we put up a pretty good show but it would have helped had we gained a bigger lead in the first leg. Two points was probably never going to be enough. We did better than expected and I thought Edinburgh would be stronger than they actually were."
Parker was aware that the 8-1 gained with Grieves put a sufficient dent in Monarchs’ winning margin to make the scores artificially close. "I don’t agree with the new tactical rules," he added, "but we have got to abide by them. Luckily we used it to our advantage and it may help us further on in the season."
Monarchs picked up a couple of 5-1s during the match, one of them a surprise gain in heat 11 when reserve Wethers gamely held out Stancl to grab second place behind partner Carr. Stancl and Graham Jones got into a tangle on the third bend of the first lap and this made Wethers’ job easier, especially when Jones retired on the next lap.
Wethers, who picked up four points in total, said: "I actually missed the start in that race and I was very lucky when Graham made a mess of things. I could hear him behind me but I rode a defensive line and it paid off."
Monarchs: Stonehewer 13, Carr 11, Woodward 8, Pijper 6, Schlein 5, Wethers 4, Phelps 1.
Glasgow: Parker 16, Stancl 9, Grieves 8, Jones 6, Bentley 4, Blackman 1, Campbell 1.
report from The Scotsman
HOLDERS Edinburgh Monarchs still have a tentative hold on Scottish speedway’s Spring Trophy despite yesterday’s narrow 46-44 first-leg defeat by Glasgow Tigers at Ashfield Stadium.
The Tigers were delighted to end Monarchs’ recent dominance at Saracen Park - and Capital boss John Campbell wasn’t downhearted with the result either, feeling his side will overturn the deficit at Armadale on Friday.
He said: "From a purely business point of view it’s nice to lose because the Glasgow fans will come out in force for the deciding leg."
Regarding Monarchs’ overall performance, Campbell was happy with what he saw, saying: "I was certainly pretty pleased and the signs are there that we will do very well this season. Everybody was involved in the action on what was a very wet track and I and everybody else were very impressed by our new Australian Cameron Woodward in particular. But I think Glasgow might have a problem with heavy tracks at home - although they won’t be racing us every week and we are probably the best team round Ashfield.
"Glasgow’s big two James Grieves and Shane Parker were very good and I don’t think many visiting teams will score as many as we did." Monarchs recruited Sheffield’s Sean Wilson as a guest for the missing Frede Schott, and the Yorkshireman did not disappoint, top scoring with 12 points from five races.
Campbell admitted Monarchs are not missing the Dane at the moment. "It’s very much the start of the season and very much a warm-up situation. There is no great motivation from anyone because they are all trying to settle in. Sean did a great job for us."
Rory Schlein was the other Monarch to hit double figures, collecting ten points from his five outings. Schlein’s only slack ride was in heat ten when he was relegated to third place by George Stancl and Graham Jones. And it was this one and only Tigers’ 5-1 which ultimately proved the difference between the sides.
On Saturday Monarchs also slipped to a slender 50-46 Premier Trophy reverse against Workington Comets at a chilly Derwent Park.
Schlein was again among the points, picking up a total of 14 which included a new-rule tactical ride in heat 11. Stand-in guest Craig Boyce was in outstanding form scorching to a 16-point haul - which also included a tactical ride. Boyce was the only visitor to defeat home ace Carl Stonehewer. This was no mean feat - ‘Stoney’ looked razor sharp but Boyce lowered his colours in a memorable heat 13 skirmish.
Campbell admitted the change in tactical regulations kept Monarchs in a match they might have lost by more. He said: "That’s what the rules were set up for in the first place and it kept the tension going right to the finish. We did well to take advantage of our tactical rides."