PREVIEW Friday 24th September 2021, 11:00am
At last! The waiting is over. It's now mathematically certain the Monarchs will participate in this year's Championship play-offs. If the many possible permutations governing such concerns didn't already hint strongly in that direction, Kent 's home defeat to Leicester on Tuesday evening was all the confirmation we needed.
Depending on the results of their remaining two meetings, Birmingham can actually leap-frog both Edinburgh and Scunthorpe into fifth spot, but with a superior points difference over the Scorpions (both teams being equal on league points), the worst outcome possible for the Monarchs would be a sixth-place finish, and as six teams qualify for the play-offs…happy days!
Of course, we'll have to hang fire a little bit longer to discover who the first (hopefully) of our opponents will be, but all will most certainly be revealed by this weekend.
For now, though, an ideal distraction – Armadale Devils. Coming out on top against a plucky Kent Royals outfit was excellent given the dreadful track conditions. Indeed, all twelve riders on show deserve the greatest credit for keeping the crowd entertained in the face of such considerable adversity.
George Rothery had greatest cause to curse his luck after the first four heats in which he was programmed to ride yielded not one solitary point. Bike problems were his primary bugbear as they conspired to wreck his chances in Heats 3, 5, 6 and 9. For sure, a last place finish from sharing the lead, two 2-minute violations (in consecutive heats) and a retiral hardly describes a rider with a lucky rabbit's foot stuffed down his kevlars, does it?
He deserves a medal for perseverance alone. As if spurred on by the entire Devils support, his "if-at-first-you-don't-succeed" attitude was finally and suitably rewarded with a superb win in the penultimate heat, on a borrowed bike to boot.
It was a victory too that helped increase Armadale's advantage to four points as they went into the evening's final race in the knowledge that only a 5-1 reversal could see them fail to emerge from the meeting triumphant. And in splitting Heat 15 winner Alex Spooner from his Royals' team-mate Ryan Terry-Daley, Tom Wooley and Danny Phillips saw to it that the Devils emerged with that victory instead of another draw.
An Armadale clean sweep in that final heat would have been harsh on a Kent side who had participated ferociously all night and I'm in no doubt that the bonus point they took back south with them wouldn't have been begrudged by anyone present of a blue and gold persuasion.
Again, in complete defiance of the elements, three riders – the aforementioned Devils pair Wooley and Phillips as well as Alex Spooner of the Royals – managed to deliver a hugely impressive 15 points apiece. In fact, only four of the meeting's 15 heats were won by anyone out with that prolific trio.
Honourable mentions too should go to Royals' Terry-Daly and former Monarch, Connor Coles who offered Spooner decent support throughout while, for Armadale, the Miller brothers' development continues to blossom assuredly.
The win over Kent boosts our league position to a lofty fourth (or not so lofty third bottom if you happen to be a glass-half-empty type of person). Subject to confirmation, visits to West Lothian from Leicester and Mildenhall on consecutive Fridays will complete our home programme before the return trip to Kent on Tuesday 12th October brings down the curtain on the Devils' season as a whole.
This weekend's guests, Leicester currently occupy the league placing no team wants – and the one we've only recently vacated – bottom. However, just two points separate the Lion Cubs, who have fulfilled one less meeting, from ourselves. Kent are stuck tightly in between although, with six meetings outstanding, it's not inconceivable they could blow everyone else away and grab the title for themselves. Not inconceivable, but highly unlikely – yet it demonstrates perfectly just how topsy-turvy and itsy-bitsy this NDL campaign has been.
With such precocious talent at their disposal as the twin Thompsons, Dan and Joe, Tom Spencer and Ben Trigger, it takes a bit of believing that of the seven fixtures the Cubs have completed to date, only one has ended in a victory. All four riders mentioned will be in action at Armadale with reserves Kai Ward and Mickie Simpson completing what will be a sextet due to the mid-season retiral of Joe Lawlor. The former Monarch's rides will be covered by rider replacement.
For the Devils, another former Monarch, Willie Lawson, makes a quick return to Armadale guesting for Nathan Greaves. Archie Freeman also returns to the fold after missing last week's clash while Tom Wooley continues in his role as acting captain.
Lastly, a word of congratulation for 'new' British Under-19 champion, Drew Kemp, who picked up the award for a record third time last Friday. Over the course of his triple triumph, it's incredible to note that, with each final yielding a 15-point maximum, the Monarch's latest acquisition did not drop one single point. Sadly, Drew's 'advancing years' (he'll be 20 this time next year) preclude him from participation in the 2022 event but rest assured his trophy cabinet will only continue to burgeon with other honours the older he gets
Also competing at Scunthorpe's Eddie Wright Raceway was Armadale reserve Archie Freeman whose three-point finish included one second place in which he beat both Kyle Bickley and Ben Trigger.