PLYMOUTH Gladiators' hopes of making the Cab Direct Championship play-offs suffered a major setback last night with a 46-44 home defeat to Edinburgh Monarchs.

In a cracking meeting between two sides battling for the sixth and final play-off spot, the Monarchs snatched victory with a 5-1 in the final heat from Josh Pickering and superb guest Erik Riss - the only time in the whole match the Scottish side had led.

It looked like Plymouth were heading for victory when Kyle Howarth and Richie Worrall recorded their own 5-1 over Riss and Pickering in heat 13 to open up a six-point lead, with Pickering pulling up on the first two bends after feeling he had been impeded by Worrall.

It seemed certain Monarchs' team manager Gordon Campbell would bring one of those two out in heat 14 as a tactical substitute for Bastian Borke, who had only scored one point from his opening three rides.

But he left the Danish rider in, and it proved to be an inspired move as he followed Paco Castagna home for a shock 5-1 over James Pearson and Ben Trigger to reduce the deficit to only two points and set up a last-heat decider.

It always looked like a meeting that would go down to the wire, with never more than four points between the two sides until that heat 13, and eight heats being drawn.

Young Leicester Cubs National Development League rider Max Perry did his best as a guest for the Gladiators but he was never going to be a suitable replacement for Dan Gilkes and failed to score, and that proved telling to the final outcome.

Gladiators team manager Garry May had earlier explained that a planned guest had let him down the day before the meeting, and Perry had stepped in at short notice.

Edinburgh now have a seven-point gap over bottom side Plymouth, who still have four meetings to race, but having now lost their last 11 Championship matches, it is very hard to see them making a dramatic end-of-season resurgence, and next Tuesday's home match with Berwick Bandits should see the end of their home league campaign for 2023.

Plymouth: Kyle Howarth 13+1 (6 rides), Richie Worrall 12+1 (6), James Pearson 10+3 (6), Kyle Newman 7 (5), Ben Trigger 2+1 (4), Max Perry 0 (3).

Edinburgh: Erik Riss 12+1 (5), Josh Pickering 10 (5), Paco Castagna 9 (4), Kye Thomson 6+3 (4), Max Clegg 4 (4), Bastian Borke 3+1 (4), Luke Killeen 2+1 (4).