Scunthorpe Scorpions all set for massive weekend in speedway play-offs
The Henderson Insurance Scunthorpe Scorpions begin their Speedway Premier League play-off campaign this weekend with home and away fixtures against Edinburgh Monarchs.
The Scorpions travel up to Scotland on Friday (7.30pm) before bringing the Monarchs back to the Eddie Wright Raceway on early Sunday evening at 5pm.
It is the first time that the Scorpions have ever featured in the play-offs at Premier League level.
They compete in a group of teams, which, in addition to Scunthorpe and Edinburgh, also features the Workington Comets.
Scunthorpe earned their placed in the play-offs by finishing second in the regular league table after a storming finish to their Premier League campaign, which saw the Scorpions win 13, draw 1 and lose only two of their final 16 Premier League fixtures, after a tough start which saw them lose 6 of their opening 8 league fixtures in a tricky period in May and June.
The Scorpions are arguably the form team in the division, having picked up 22 points out of 22 in their final 7 league matches.
Those final seven fixtures consisted of six home victories at the Eddie Wright Raceway, plus a 54-39 away win at Edinburgh, where the Scorpions return on Friday.
Team manager Richard Hollingsworth said: “I am genuinely proud that we finished second in the league table, just one point behind Newcastle.
“It’s not been a straight forward season by any means; we were struggling with injuries from day one when Tom Armstrong crashed out of the opening meeting of the season. We’ve also been without David Howe for the vast majority of the season; we can count the number of times we’ve tracked a full side without guests or rider replacement on one hand.
“Injuries, sadly, are part and parcel of the sport, and there are other teams who have also overcome problems on that front as well.
“We knew all along that we had a good side this season. The addition of Nick Morris and Gary Irving did help to transform our results, but we had a team largely consisting of young riders who we knew would just get stronger and stronger as the season continued. Even Josh Auty, our No 1, is still just 22 years old.
“We’ve seen Thomas Jorgensen (now sadly injured) and Ashley Birks both come on in leaps-and-bounds, and it’s been particularly satisfying to see Michael Palm Toft hit form, after a difficult patch earlier in the season.”
Hollingsworth is now concentrating on the four play-off group matches ahead.
“The clock is now reset to zero; everyone starts from scratch again in the play-offs. However, what we do take into the play-offs is a feeling of self-confidence and belief, built up by a very good set of results over the last two to three months. We honestly believe we are capable of winning our play-off group and then winning the final.
“It certainly won’t be easy, because all the teams in the play-offs are quality sides. It’s impossible to get into the top six without having a good side. However, we have beaten all our opponents at some point during the season, and we will be looking to do that again in the play-offs.
“Over the next four meetings, every single match point and indeed race point could prove to be crucial.”
Meanwhile, everyone at Scunthorpe is looking forward to the weekend.
“Edinburgh have been one of the teams to beat at this level”, explained Hollingsworth. “The Monarchs were league champions in our first year in the Premier League in 2008. These are the kind of big fixtures we’ve looked forward to for a long time – to take on teams like Edinburgh in the play-offs.
“And while they are a big team, we can beat them. We’ve already done the double over the Monarchs in our regular league fixtures.
“We bring in Kevin Doolan as a guest at Edinburgh on Friday, while Jason Bunyan (fresh from 12+1 against Glasgow last week) is again our guest at the Eddie Wright Raceway. Kevin and Jason fit in with our regular riders very well.
“It’s a cliché to say each week that it’s the biggest meeting in the history of the track, but in our case, it’s absolutely true. Last Friday, we were involved in one of two fixtures that determined who finished top of the table – a situation we’d never been in before at this level.
“And then the play-offs are another step up again, because these are the actual meetings that determine who wins the championship.
“Sunday is a huge night at the Eddie Wright Raceway. Our admission prices have been pegged at the usual levels, at just £14 for adults, and we hope the public of Scunthorpe will respond with a bumper turn-out and really get behind the boys, as we endeavour to reach the Grand Final.”
Sunday’s action is concluded by an eight-heat youth 125cc championship that sees eight of the stars of tomorrow battling it out for a trophy.
Henderson Insurance Scunthorpe Scorpions: 1. Josh Auty, 2. David Howe R/R, 3. Jason Bunyan, 4. Ashley Birks, 5. Nick Morris (Australia), 6. Michael Palm Toft (Denmark), 7. Gary Irving.
Edinburgh Monarchs: 1. Craig Cook, 2. Derek Sneddon (Scotland), 3. Theo Pijper (The Netherlands), 4. Matthew Wethers (Australia), 5. Andrew Tully (Scotland), 6. Jozsef Tabaka (Hungary), 7. James Sargeant.
Youth 125cc championship: 1. Dan Thompson, 2. Kyle Bickley, 3. Macauley Leek, 4. Jack Parkinson-Blackburn, 5. Jamie Halder, 6. Joe Thompson, 7. Ben Woodhull, 8. Luke Woodhull.
SKIPPER BIRKS SAYS...
“We’ve got a young team, who are eager to win, and keen to win races.
“I think that’s why we’ve been doing so well. We just get out there and we all want to win.
“Our first two matches are both against Edinburgh, and we are capable of winning them both. We’ve won at Edinburgh once already, while we’ll try to get a good win against them at home.
“We’ll go out there and get some good results against Edinburgh and Workington, and see where that leaves us.”
Birks, in only his second full season of Premier League racing, has already scored over 300 points for the Scorpions this season, and a switch from reserve to the No 4 berth has done little to effect his scoring.
He added: “I guess a lot of people may have been expecting me to be in-and-out of the reserve berth, but that hasn’t happened. I’ve moved up and then stayed up.
“It’s worked out well, because I’m scoring good points for the team, and so is Michael Palm Toft, who has replaced me at reserve.”