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Devils entertain Royals

PREVIEW Friday 17th September 2021, 12:37pm

by Jim Milton

Last weekend will surely be seen as pivotal to the Monarchs' rejuvenation and reclaimed quest for this season's honours. A trio of fine results, two bearing the well-worn hallmark of a storming late comeback, has all but sealed their involvement in the play-offs as well as offering an excellent chance of progression in the Knockout Cup.

Despite too many close calls, not to mention a succession of line-up changes that would have your average Armadale revolving door manufacturer run off his feet, 2021 was shaping up to be the club's brightest in quite some time. Only over the past few weeks have doubts began to surface over the validity of their intent to succeed.

Hence the importance of what appeared in prospect a season-defining three days. Birmingham had already demonstrated how difficult it can be to get the better of them. Building a strong first leg Knockout Cup lead to take back to Perry Barr in a fortnight's time wouldn't be easy although, with Richie Worrall fit again and raring to go, the West Lothian outfit were surely better equipped this time than they had been for that earlier Championship clash.

And sure enough, once they forged ahead right from the start, it was only a question of how big a lead they could build to take with them to the Midlands. I think most Monarchs fans would have settled for an eighteen-point advantage before tapes up and, with our away form consistently strong, an all-Scottish semi-final battle with Glasgow, barring disaster, must be considered attainable.

Again it was a heat-leaders' masterclass with all three delivering double-figure scores. The Brummies, who couldn't muster a single race advantage all evening, were but a shadow of the side who had so impressed just seven days earlier, although it would still be foolish to write them off this early.

24 hours after the victory over Birmingham, Edinburgh reverted to type somewhat with a late, late rally at Leicester, Sam and Josh snatching the bonus point with an audacious, if wholly predictable, final heat 5-1. A defeat in name only, this mammoth salvage job, to my mind, has to be the result of the weekend. To lose by just four points to a strong Lions side after twice being ten behind marks quite an achievement given both Anders and Kye finished the meeting pointless and Drew fared only slightly better on three.

Sam and Josh top scored on 14 and 12 points respectively, while Redcar's Jordan Jenkins, the latest guest to fill our Nathan-shaped hole, also excelled with seven points. This was actually a repeat of Kyle Bickley's feat from the day before – down to the brace of heat wins - although JJ's points tally was accomplished over three consecutive rides.

On to Sunday and what would be another familiar smash and grab story at Newcastle. On paper, this one looked a more obvious win opportunity than Leicester but, in reality, it could hardly have been tighter.

Trailing by two points going into the penultimate heat, guest reserve Connor Bailey and Josh Pickering combined brilliantly to put the Monarchs in front by the same margin before a further 5-1, this time courtesy of Richie and Sam, stretched our final points margin to six, just one short of that required for the maximum four league points.

A wonderful weekend's work that not even this Wednesday's heavy 52-38 defeat at Birmingham in our final Championship fixture could spoil. Certainly not the result we had wanted to end our scheduled programme although, ironically enough, the same scoreline in a fortnight's time would be enough to see off the Brummies in the Knockout Cup.

At school Maths was the only subject I was any good at (I was a wizard with the old slide rule let me tell you) but even then, I'd have to be either a darts commentator or her off Countdown to make sense of the many ifs, buts and maybes involved in coming to an informed play-off analysis. Suffice to say, it would take something totally catastrophic to happen for Edinburgh to be usurped at the last moment. So let's keep those fingers crossed…

This weekend, our attention turns to the National Development League and Armadale Devils' first home meeting since 2nd July when Leicester's visit fell victim to the weather after just two heats (the rerun of that fixture is now scheduled for next Friday, 24th September, incidently). This Friday, however, we host the Kent Royals who, just to demonstrate how far from ideal this season's NDL has been, have to date only completed three outings.

With Newcastle and Eastbourne both pulling out during the course of the campaign, we are now left with six teams (that's just a ten-meeting programme), which unless you're a fan of symmetry – the Premiership also runs with six – makes very little sense at all. It's no wonder riders and fans alike get frustrated with the lack of action. Having any sort of development league at all is vitally important to the sport in this country so I guess some serious thought is needed to achieve the seemingly impossible task of improving it.

To say the Royals are something of an unknown quantity (British speedway's best kept secret, some might say) is putting it mildly. Ryan Kinsley and Dan Gilkes are perhaps the names best known to Monarchs/Devils fans although the latter, along with team-mate Jake Mulford, will have to sit Friday out due to the rescheduling of the British under-19's final for the same day. Former Monarch Connor Coles and Ryan Terry-Daley Kinsley, who has already raced at Armadale twice this season, come in as guests for the pair. However, Kinsley, the cruel victim recently of the theft of his bikes and equipment, will also miss out with rider replacement being deployed as cover.

The Royals, as a team, have certainly not had their sorrows to seek in 2021. Enforced line-up changes have pretty much defined their season with first veteran Rob Ledworth and then Kelsey Dugard announcing their retirement. This has given an opportunity to a couple of youngsters taking their National league bow in 21-year-old Josh Warren and Hallsham-born Vinnie Foord who only celebrated his 15th birthday two months ago. Dear me, what was I doing at 15? It certainly wasn't tearing round a speedway track!

Jacob Clouting and Alex Spooner, both of whom have been attached to either Kent club since 2018, complete the Royals' septet.

As expected, the Devils will use rider replacement for Nathan Greaves while Redcar 'youngster', Gavin Parr, guests at reserve for Archie Freeman.