REACTION: “Scott Nicholls was again unbelievable tonight.”
SKIPPER Scott Nicholls took a brilliant maximum, as Monarch Oxford Cheetahs cruised into the semi-finals of the Championship Knockout Cup, after a 45-45 draw at Armadale Stadium last night (Friday) sealed a 99-81 aggregate victory over Edinburgh Monarchs.
Cheetahs, holding an 18-point lead from the first leg at Cowley on Wednesday, never looked in trouble in Scotland. After seven races, they had built up a 27-15 lead in the second leg and led by a massive 30 points on aggregate. Cheetahs took five successive heat advantages between Heat 3 and Heat 7.
Justin Sedgmen came in as a guest for Lewis Kerr, who is currently ruled out for nine days due to concussion protocols, following his alarming crash at Oxford on Wednesday. Kerr is all ready to return once those nine days expire.
Sedgmen combined two 5-1s with Jordan Jenkins in Heats 3 and 7, with Craig Cook beaten in the latter race. Sedgmen finished the night on 10 points, while the lively Jenkins picked up 5+2.
It was a team performance by Cheetahs, with Henry Atkins totting up 3+1 on his first-ever visit to the tricky Armadale circuit, while Luke Killeen won a battle for third place with Jacob Hook in Heat 4.
Cheetahs were safely in the cup semis with four heats to spare, when Sam Masters won his third successive ride in Heat 11 on his return to his old track. For most of the race, Masters and Cameron Heeps held a 5-1 over Cook, due to some classy team-riding, but Heeps fell on the final circuit after drifting too wide.
Heeps’ points did not reflect his efforts, and those efforts were appreciated by the Oxford management who gave him an extra outing in the concluding Heat 15.
44-year-old Nicholls again showed age is just a number, with a quite fantastic display. He won his opening three outings with the minimum of fuss, but really showed his class in Heat 13. Beaten by the tapes by Richie Worrall and Cook, he raced through the middle of the Edinburgh pair on the fourth bend. A ding-dong battle ensued with Worrall, which Nicholls won with a decisive move on the third lap. It was the race of the evening and left the crowd enraptured. With Nicholls not used in Heat 15, he collected a full 12-point maximum from the meeting.
After Edinburgh took a 5-1 in Heat 14, Cheetahs led by two points on the night heading into Heat 15. In a fight first lap, Masters rounded Worrall on the second bend, but it left a gap for Cook on the inside. Masters did not give up the chase, but Monarchs took a 4-2, to clinch the draw on the night and provide some consolation for the home fans.
For Cheetahs, their main focus was on qualifying for the semi-finals and that target was achieved with ease, as Oxford extended their unbeaten run to four matches.
It was also the first time that Oxford have beaten Edinburgh on aggregate in the Knockout Cup. Monarchs both Cheetahs on aggregate in both 1981 and 1997 – in the latter year the two sides met in the Premier League Knockout Cup final, where Monarchs won 94-86 on aggregate.
Team manager Peter Schroeck said: “Edinburgh can be a really tough place to come to, but the boys are going really well – they are gelling together well and riding with confidence.
“Justin Sedgmen has come in and done a great job as a guest, while our all boys also did their job.
“Scott Nicholls was again unbelievable tonight. Any young rider who watched his ride in Heat 13 tonight has got to be in awe. He’s totally safe, but never gives up and just keeps going and going until he wins the race. Scott leads this team from the front and it’s awesome.
“We’ve got a really positive momentum going at the moment. The whole team is helping each other and looking after each other and it’s a pleasure to work with these guys. We’ve just got to keep it going and see where we end up at the end of the season.”
Edinburgh Monarchs 45: Richie Worrall 10, Lasse Fredriksen 4, Kye Thomson 8, Paco Castagna 3+2, Craig Cook 9+1, Kyle Bickley 6+2, Jacob Hook 5+1.
Monarch Oxford Cheetahs 45: Sam Masters 11, Cameron Heeps 3, Justin Sedgmen 10, Jordan Jenkins 5+2, Scott Nicholls 12, Henry Atkins 3+1, Luke Killeen 1.
REPORT: Rob Peasley