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Edinburgh Monarchs v Scunthorpe Scorpions

PREVIEW Friday 28th September 2012, 12:00pm

by Gordon Fraser

The first of Edinburgh's Premier League Play Off matches takes place on Friday (7.30) when the highly ambitious Scunthorpe Scorpions return to the scene of their recent triumph at the Scotwaste Arena when they romped past a depleted Monarchs side in the worst racing conditions of the season.

This time around, Monarchs are considerably boosted by the return from injury of potential match winners, Craig Cook and Jozsef Tabaka, who have hopefully lost none of their scoring power, while Scunthorpe have a significantly re-jigged line-up which makes prediction even more of a lottery than usual.

Craig Cook's injury came just as the UK speedway world was sitting up and taking notice, and he returns short of the match practice he had hoped for. He is opposed by fellow GB rising star Josh Auty who moves up from No.5 to No.1 to provide one of the most exciting match-ups in Premier League speedway.

Derek Sneddon suffered more than most from the dreadful racing conditions last time but has put in some brilliant rides since then. Once again he is faced with matching rider replacement at No.2, previously for Nick Morris, this Friday for Thomas Jorgensen who was a double figure scorer a month ago.

Theo Pijper is another who will be looking to be back to his best, having been well outscored by Jorgensen in August. His opposite number this time is Redcar's Kevin Doolan who comes in at No.3 as a guest for Armadale expert David Howe, sidelined first with a grass track injury, then a long track injury.

Skipper Matthew Wethers was the only Monarch to stand up to the Scorpions previously, at least matching the score of his opposite number Ashley Birks who was a real surprise package with a fast and totally committed style in the rain and mud. This is likely to be a really important match-up.

Andrew Tully has been flying again recently and he will need to be sharp out of the gate in order not to hand any advantage to his opposite number at No.5, the young Aussie, Nick Morris who played such a major part in Glasgow's Premier League success last season.

There will be huge sighs of relief from fans of the blue and gold at the return of the tenacious young Hungarian, Jozsef Tabaka. Monarchs will be looking for him to restrict the scoring of the excellent Michael Palm Toft whose paid 12 points was a major factor in the Scorpions success in the August fixture.

With the unpredictable Marcel Helfer unavailable, the predictably determined Byron Bekker returns to guest at No.7 against the former Workington reserve, Gary Irving who enjoyed a big pay night on his last visit. This is another match-up that could have a big influence on the outcome.

Scunthorpe will go into this match with a lot of confidence, having been the only visiting side to win at Armadale in the Premier League this season and finishing nine league points and four places ahead of Monarchs. But Edinburgh could hardly have been worse on a night when none of the usual racing lines was available.

Monarchs normally reliable top five mostly scored below their best but still just about matched their opposite numbers. It was at reserve where Monarchs were outscored by paid 20 to 2, so it's clear there is plenty of room for improvement all throughout the side, but particularly at Nos. 6 and 7.

Given the time of year and the recent heavy rains, track conditions can hardly be expected to be at their very best, but they can't be any worse than on Scunthorpe's last visit. So at least the scores should be much closer, but with normal match points applying, Scorpions will be keen not to leave empty handed.

A close, tense encounter can be expected with both teams looking to get the Play Offs away to the best possible start. Edinburgh are well capable of reversing the previous result, but the Scorpions will fight all the way. So it should be a cracker. Don't miss it. Tapes up 7.30.

Likely line-ups.

EDINBURGH SCOTWASTE MONARCHS: Craig Cook, Derek Sneddon, Theo Pijper, Matthew Wethers (capt.), Andrew Tully, Jozsef Tabaka, Byron Bekker (guest).

SCUNTHORPE SCORPIONS: Josh Auty, rider replacement for Thomas Jorgensen, Kevin Doolan (guest), Ashley Birks, Nick Morris, Michael Palm Toft, Gary Irving.