Edinburgh Monarchs have it all to do in the second leg of their KO Cup quarter-final clash after they toiled to curb Sheffield Tigers in tonight’s first-leg encounter at Armadale. Monarchs ran out eventual winners but whether it will be enough to earn them a semi-final meeting with Ipswich Witches is hugely debatable. The Tigers proved superior in a lot of departments and had the man of the match in former Monarch Kyle Howarth who picked 14 points. Monarchs captain Sam Masters said: “We got the job done eventually but would have liked a bigger lead to take down to Sheffield.” Erik Riss commented: “I struggled to find the right set-up and I toiled all evening.” Even Ricky Wells was downbeat, saying: “I would have loved to have scored a maximum but I couldn’t get out of the start.” Sheffield became the third visiting side this season to arrive with a makeshift line-up. No.1 Josh Grajczonek and Lasse Bjerre were both absent and it simply devalues a match when a team arrives shorthanded. It’s starting to turn into a running joke, but not everyone is laughing. The public are being short changed, but at the Lothian Arena at least it hasn’t affected attendances which are already up on 2016. Sheffield gave Monarchs a wake-up call in the early heats. Former Monarchs racer Rob Branford won heat two getting the better of Mark Riss and, in the following race, only a third bend intervention from Erik Riss prevented a Sheffield 5-1. They still grabbed a 4-2 courtesy of Josh Bates and Todd Kurtz and led Monarchs 11-7 after only three heats. And the Tigers bared their claws in the next heat with another 4-2 from Kyle Howarth and Jack Parkinson-Blackburn to extend their lead to 15-9. With no tactical substitutes allowed in the cup alarm bells were starting to ring in the Monarchs camp after providing just one race winner in the opening heat. It was turning into a nightmare for the home side as Richard Lawson and Josh Bates easily won a 5-1 against Erik Riss and Max Clegg in heat five to go ten points up, 20-10. Monarchs skipper Masters won his second race of the night in heat six, but the problem for the Aussie was that he was receiving no support. Sheffield, for their part, were far sharper from the gate and looked to have no weak links. This was underlined by Kyle Howarth who beat Wells comfortably in the next race for a 3-3 share of the spoils to maintain Sheffield’s ten-point lead. At this point Sheffield were handing Monarchs something of a speedway lesson. Monarchs then awoke from their slumbers with Josh Pickering and Mark Riss grabbing a 5-1 over Bates and Parkinson-Blackburn to reduce their leeway to six points. Howarth, a former Monarch, looked unstoppable as he won the ninth race in crushing style for the Tigers – and Howarth hasn’t ridden like this for a long time. A pulsating second place by Pickering to follow Masters home for a great 5-1 in heat ten reduced Monarchs’ arrears to just two points. 31-29. But they could only share heat 11 with Wells taking the chequered flag for the first time in the match. Then, almost incredibly, Monarchs took the lead for the first time in heat 12 thanks to a 5-1 from the Riss brothers over Todd Kurtz and Rob Branford. This put Monarchs ahead 37-35 but heats were running out for the Capital side to build a sizeable lead to take down to Sheffield for the second leg which will possibly be staged in June. Sheffield then levelled the match when Howarth and Richard Lawson grabbed a 4-2 in heat 13. Back it swung in Monarchs’ favour when Mark Riss and Max Clegg took maximum points in the penultimate heat to give Monarchs a four-point lead with one race to go.
Monarchs: Masters 11, Wells 10, M Riss 9, E Riss 8, Pickering 5, Clegg 2, Davey 2.
Sheffield: Howarth 14, Lawson 11, Bates 8, Kurtz 4, Branford 4, Parkinson-Blackburn 2.