Edinburgh Monarchs came in from the cold on a wintry evening at Berwick Bandits on Saturday to rescue their ailing speedway League Cup qualifying hopes.
After Berwick had stunned Monarchs by winning at Armadale ten days ago the border side were warm favourites to complete a double over Monarchs, but the battling Capital side turned the tables on their hosts to triumph 48-42. And while they gained three match points instead of the four they craved, Monarchs, the holders, are still in the competition, albeit by the skin of their teeth.
Glasgow Tigers boosted their chances of making the semi-finals by beating Berwick yesterday at Ashfield 49-41.
Monarchs were looking for their top four to step up a gear and this they did in great style, in fact Monarchs provided an incredible 12 race winners over the course of the match which stunned Berwick who may not be as solid as they think.
Monarchs’ rampant American Ryan Fisher collected a paid 15-point maximum and received sterling support from skipper Sam Masters and Kevin Wolbert who also both weighed in with double figure totals.
Erik Riss should not be overlooked either, the young German scored a valuable eight points which included victories in his last two outings.
And reserve Dan Bewley picked up an excellent second place in heat two by keeping his Berwick counterpart Liam Carr in third place as the Bandits countered the 4-2 Monarchs produced in the opening race.
Bewley’s bike packed up after that and the teenager had to switch to his second machine which proved less effective.
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess was satisfied with the improvement in the middle order. He said: “They did far better this time and scored in a manner which people expect from them, and that was underlined by how many races they won between them on a track which was extremely tricky and I’m sure they will now improve over the course of the season.”
He added: “We are certainly not out of the cup despite winning just one of our three fixtures so far.”
Monarchs were on course to plunder all four points when they led 43-35 after heat 13, however the Bandits snatched a 5-1 in the very next race to cut Monarchs’ lead in half.
And although Monarchs grabbed a 4-2 in the final heat, their six-point victory just fell short of the margin required to claim the magic four meeting points.
In reality Monarchs are far more focused now on their opening Premier League fixture against Workington Comets on Friday, the cup is secondary to that.
Berwick: Pijper 12, Doolan 8, Wethers 7, Alden 5, Carr 6, Jorgensen 4.
Monarchs: Fisher 14, Masters 12, Wolbert 10, Riss 8, Bewley 2, Etheridge 1, Clegg 1.
Berwick Bandits pulled off a shock 46-44 League Cup victory against Edinburgh Monarchs at Armadale last night, which leaves the Capital speedway side’s silverware hopes hanging by a thread.
The Bandits have a grim record at Armadale which has been a graveyard for them in the past. But they boast a solid looking side this season and this paid dividends for them as too many of Monarchs’ experienced riders failed to shine when the chips were down.
Monarchs skipper Sam Masters, who romped to a flawless maximum of 15 points, said: “The conditions were far from ideal but it was the same for everybody. Berwick beat us out of the start a few times and it was difficult to come from the back if you missed the start.”
Former Monarch skipper Matthew Wethers said: “This was a great result for the whole Berwick team. We fancied our chances before the start and so it proved. It is such a change to win at Armadale!”
The first four heats were all shared with no-one prepared to risk life or limb in the wet except for Monarchs reserve Max Clegg who was outgated in the second race but wound it on to come from third to first and power past former Wethers and Liam Carr to take the chequered flag in fine style.
But the Bandits then shocked Monarchs in the fifth race when Thomas Jorgensen and another ex-Monarch, Theo Pijper, grabbed a 5-1 over Monarchs German duo Kevin Wolbert and Erik Riss to give them a 17-13 lead. Monarchs fans must have realised at this stage the Bandits were not going to roll over.
Berwick maintained their four-point advantage in heat seven when Kevin Doolan headed Ryan Fisher and Clegg home for a share of the spoils with Monarchs a bit sluggish from the tapes at times.
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess switched his reserve in heat eight pulling out Dan Bewley, who had failed to score in his first two rides, in favour of the more experienced Clegg as they attempted to get back on level terms with the Bandits. However, the move did not come off as Berwick grabbed a 4-2 win courtesy of Pijper and Carr to move six points clear, 27-21.
Monarchs then recorded their first heat advantage of the night when Riss and Wolbert picked up a 4-2 over Wethers and Seb Alden in heat nine which cut the arrears to just four points.
And the home side repeated the trick in the next race when Monarchs skipper Sam Masters and Clegg outgunned Doolan and Anders Mellgren to leave the Bandits were hanging on by their fingertips 31-29.
But the visitors were certainly not done and Pijper, who proved to be a real thorn in the flesh of his former teammates, and Jorgensen, collected Berwick’s second 5-1 of the match to restore their six-point lead.
Fisher and Masters pulled off a slightly lucky 4-2 in heat 13 to close the gap to just four points again.
But Wethers held off a fierce challenge from Riss in the penultimate race to give Berwick a 3-3 share of the spoils leaving Monarchs needing a 5-1 in the heat 15 top scorers’ race to salvage a draw.
They did not manage it, despite Masters winning the race Doolan claimed second place which was enough to hand the glory to Berwick.
Monarchs: Masters 15, Clegg 9, Wolbert 7, Riss 7, Fisher 6, Etheridge 0, Bewley 0.
Berwick: Doolan 12, Pijper 10, Wethers 9, Jorgensen 6, Alden 6, Carr 3, Mellgren 0.
Edinburgh Monarchs and Glasgow Tigers bosses have not been on speaking terms since last year, but the Tigers did plenty of talking on the track at Ashfield Stadium as they easily overcame their oldest rivals 56-37 in their opening League Cup qualifying group clash.
This was Monarchs’ first competitive action of 2016 and it showed on occasions against a Tigers squad who are the favourites to deny Monarchs a third championship crown in a row this season.
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess said he was disappointed at the result, adding: ”Sam (Masters) did exceptionally well for us but the rest of the team struggled a bit especially early on when the track was heavy.
“Too many of our riders were unable to mix it with the bottom end of Glasgow’s team but I suspect that was down to some of them struggling to get their bike set-ups right.
“Jye (Etheridge) for instance should have scored points in his last two races but probably did not have the speed, but it’s a steep learning curve for him.
“Other than passing our riders who did nothing, there was very little passing all day. It was all down to the gate which Sam proved, the Tigers could not catch him when he got away.
“Tigers were always in control and getting a match point was never on. But next time we will be better prepared I’m sure of that.”
Monarchs endured a torrid opening spell and were ten points down after just four heats. Etheridge slid off in the opening heat and was excluded, but his skipper Masters, who was second at the first time of asking, made no mistake in the rerun winning from the gate and earning Monarchs a share of the spoils.
Monarchs then conceded two 5-1s when Max Clegg, who gated in heat two, was passed before he had negotiated the second bend, handing an easy victory to Tigers duo Fernando Garcia and Danny Ayres.
And the Tigers bared their claws again in the next race, Richie Worrall and Ben Barker taking maximum points over Monarchs’ German duo Kevin Wolbert and Erik Riss.
In a bid to stem the points tide enveloping them, Monarchs handed Masters a tactical outing in the fifth race, and the Aussie bagged a double six-point haul by taking the chequered flag, but unfortunately Etheridge, who had not seen Ashfield before, finished last. However, Monarchs’ resultant 6-3 advantage at least reduced their arrears to seven points 20-13.
But Monarchs’ returning Californian Ryan Fisher was on the wrong end of a Tigers 4-2 for the second time in three races, and the Capital outfit slipped nine points behind, 27-18 after seven heats.
In a cracking eighth heat Tigers reserve Danny Ayres and team-mate Nike Lunna grabbed a third 5-1 of the meeting for their side against Clegg and Etheridge, who fell on the final two bends impeding Lunna, and the race was awarded to Glasgow.
Tigers were in their pomp now, leading 32-19 and it did not get easier for Monarchs in the ninth race when Fisher touched the tapes and had to start from 15 metres back, and this allowed Worrall and Barker to help themselves to their second 5-1 of the match which increased Tigers’ lead to 37-20.
Monarchs then managed their first advantage of the afternoon when Wolbert and Riss sneaked a 4-2 against Tigers No.1 Richard Lawson and Lunna in heat ten to temporarily apply the brakes to their rampant hosts.
But there was no way the Tigers were going to take their foot off the gas and a brace of 4-2s in heats 11 and 12 stretched their advantage to 47-28 with Monarchs simply unable to respond on a circuit that they have done so well at in recent times.
Masters, who was Monarchs’ best performer by some way by racking up 17 points from five starts, at least had the satisfaction of spoiling Tigers’ star Aaron Summers’ maximum hopes by heading his rival home in heat 13 after Fisher suffered an engine failure.
Monarchs new boys Etheridge and Daniel Bewley failed to score which was not entirely unexpected, but the Tigers have sent a very strong message to Monarchs that they are going to be after them every step of the way in the battle for the 2016 Premier League title.
Glasgow: Summers 13, Worrall 11, Lawson 8, Barker 7, Ayres 7, Garcia 6, Lunna 4.
Edinburgh: Masters 17, Wolbert 8, Riss 5, Fisher 5, Clegg 2, Bewley 0, Etheridge 0.