|MATCH POSTPONED: Tonight's match at Armadale Stadium against Glasgow Tigers has been postponed due to heavy rain. The match will be restaged this Friday 22nd October at 7:30pm. Full details on tickets and streams to follow.|
PREVIEW Friday 8th October 2021, 4:39pm
It's not something I've ever imagined myself saying but, for once, the notorious West Lothian weather might just have done us a favour.
Many believe that there's no discernible difference, but surely an advantage is there to be had playing the first of a two-legger away from home. Opening a tie on your own patch is bound to create an extra pressure as you try to establish as big a lead as possible in anticipation of the 'more difficult' return leg. On the other hand, getting that away trip done, dusted and out of the way offers a clearer view of what is required to see you progress.
Postponement of last Friday's play-off opening leg against Redcar due to rain (really?) meant that the scheduled return at the Media Prima Arena two days later suddenly became the first leg instead.
One super Monarchs' performance later and, lo and behold, we're sitting on a 12-point lead with fifteen home heats to race.
Of course, many other factors contributed to this handsome cushion, not least the absence of Michael Palm Toft from the Bears' line-up, but it's hard to deny that the switch in leg-order has really been to our benefit on this occasion.
It goes without saying that Redcar won't surrender their hopes of a semi-final place lightly. They had gone into the play-offs with an unbeaten home record, so any hint of complacency in the Edinburgh camp could be punished severely.
The scope of the Monarchs' victory on Teesside was wholly justified, though. Redcar, in spite of their own problems, simply came up against an Edinburgh outfit in superlative form.
Indeed, the Monarchs appear to be in a good place overall at present, which can only be good news as they gear up for a vital climax to the season.
Top scoring honours at Media Prima Arena were shared by Josh Pickering and the fast-improving Drew Kemp, the pair actually combining to provide over half of Edinburgh's total points tally. Both also ended the night with three race wins apiece which again accounted for over 50% of the team's overall haul of eleven.
Statistics aside though, some of the action on Sunday was absolutely breath-taking, particularly from Joshie whose already burgeoning reputation as a full-blooded entertainer broadened even further.
Few riders in the UK sport can hold a candle to the Aussie's capacity for getting the crowd on their feet, especially when he's chasing down an opponent or, more often than not, two.
With the exception of guest reserve Jason Edwards, no Monarchs' rider delivered less than seven points at Redcar, and even he deserved a far better return than he ended up with. Firmly in command of Heat 8, engine failure scuppered what would surely have been a worthy three points for a youngster we're sure to hear much more of in the future.
For the Bears, star man Jake Allen and skipper Charles Wright, with 11 and 10 points respectively, must be commended for never giving up the fight, while former Monarch James Sarjeant proved the best of the rest on seven. As alluded to earlier, the loss of Palm Toft, had a big say in the outcome of the first leg and still missing on Friday he is a huge miss for the Bears.
And it never stops for the men in blue and gold. Two days after that play-off second leg, Edinburgh travel the short journey westwards to Ashfield and a derby clash with Glasgow in the K.O. Cup semi-final. Again, the fixture fairies have seen to it that we're at home in the second leg, so it's a case of laying the most solid foundation possible ahead of the Armadale return.
Not unexpectedly, both teams have recorded changes in personnel since last meeting back in July. While the Monarchs have said goodbye to Willie Lawson, Joe Lawlor and Nathan Greaves (and Luke Crang), Glasgow have had their own tears-at-the-station moment with former Edinburgh favourite Justin Sedgmen. Also, Ulrich Ostergaard, who crashed out at Armadale back then, remains on the injury list with no firm indication as to when he may be back.
Both sides will claim that the riders who have come in as replacements have added something fresh to their respective line-ups, and when you consider the names involved, it's easy to understand why. Anders Rowe and Drew Kemp have certainly brought a youthful exuberance to the Monarchs' table, but with a side-serving of quality added on.
Anders, who is back in the fold for the weekend, hasn't perhaps been involved as much as he'd have liked, but Drew has been something of a revelation thus far. The Armadale hierarchy will be hoping there's much more still to come – from both of them.
For the Tigers, the loss of Ostergaard, devastating as it was, didn't appear to detract from their main aim, a top two finish, and they must be congratulated accordingly. To cover for Ulrich's absence, another extremely promising UK youngster, Tom Brennan, has been brought into the Ashfield. A former team-mate of Drew Kemp at Eastbourne, Tom has been a steady performer since his arrival on Clydeside, even beating top Brummie top man Chris Harris to a heat win in the Tigers' penultimate league match of the season.
Glasgow's other new arrival, Pole Marcin Nowak, has started life with Glasgow at reserve, but with an impressive paid 25 from his opening three home games for the club, he would appear to have star quality written all over him. A move up the rankings would therefore seem inevitable.
Of course, star quality is not something the Tigers are short of in general terms, with Broc Nicol, Sam Jensen and Connor Bailley all capable of hurting teams on their day. Then there's our old friends, the potentially lethal Craig Cook and Ricky Wells, each of whom have the added advantage of knowing the Armadale circuit inside out.
A great weekend of speedway in prospect. There's Bears and Tigers on the loose, so let's hope the Monarchs reign supreme…