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Speedway play-off comment: Hawkins and his team have given fans season to be proud of – now can they win the title?

PUBLISHED: 12:09 29 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:44 29 September 2017

Witches team manager Ritchie Hawkins pictured in the pits at Sheffield. He was hugely disappointed we lost, even more so than when I beat him for the Tin Cup at golf last week!

Witches team manager Ritchie Hawkins pictured in the pits at Sheffield. He was hugely disappointed we lost, even more so than when I beat him for the Tin Cup at golf last week!

© Copyright Stephen Waller

All roads lead to Foxhall Stadium tomorrow night as Ipswich Witches look to turn over a 16-point deficit against Sheffield Tigers in the Championship play-off final, second leg, start time 7.30pm.

On what should be a thrilling night of speedway action, the Witches know they have a tough task ahead of them. But it’s one they are capable of, having beaten Sheffield by 11 points and 14 points so far at Foxhall this season.

The fact that 11-point victory also included an 8-1 tactical ride win for the Tigers – something that won’t be available tomorrow as tactical rides are not allowed in the play-offs – means it could still be squeaky bum time for the Yorkshire outfit at some stage during the night.

The Witches have a good home record but will need to be on it from the off.

There are no second chances tomorrow night. Sheffield will be confident they can see out the tie, but they won’t be naive enough to think it will be a walk in the park, either.

The news that Tigers’ No.1 Josh Grajczonek is out injured and being replaced by former Witches favourite Scott Nicholls adds even more spice and excitement to the tie.

However, on the night, it’s all about momentum.

Cameron Heeps leading Kyle Howarth, Jan Graversen and team-mate Kyle Newman in heat seven of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg.   Picture: Steve Waller    www.stephenwaller.com Cameron Heeps leading Kyle Howarth, Jan Graversen and team-mate Kyle Newman in heat seven of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com

Should the Witches get off to a good start and an early lead, then you never know.

Many speedway meetings over the years have gone down to the final heats. There is little to suggest this won’t.

At Sheffield on Thursday night, five Witches won individual races, all of the riders are hugely capable.

Just imagine if they all click on one night?

Hopefully the Foxhall fans, so loyal in their support, will turn out in huge numbers.

Whatever happens, this has been a thoroughly entertaining year for Ritchie Hawkins’ men, who have come through the most horrendous injury issues during the season, never shirked a challenge, stuck together and worn the Ipswich Witch with pride. They are a credit to themselves, the club and the town.

Rory Schlein leading Todd Kurtz and Nathan Greaves during heat six of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final, first leg on Thursday night. Rory Schlein leading Todd Kurtz and Nathan Greaves during heat six of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final, first leg on Thursday night.

Hawkins has been a model manager.

He wears his heart on his sleeve, but isn’t the jumping around, mad as a hatter boss you see managing some other teams, and not just in speedway.

Indeed his calm demeanour has been a huge plus to the side and his loyalty to the cause undiminished.

Surely a Great Britain speedway boss for the future, the former Witches captain, is growing into his role with real aplomb, including the way he deals with fans and press, as well as his riders.

“I feel a responsibility, my ambition for many years now has been to bring a title back to Ipswich so I am feeling the adrenalin and the buzz for it,” he said.

“I am happy with the team I have got and have every confidence in them, they impress me every week.

Witches promoter Chris Louis, left, talks with Rory Schlein at the play-off final. Louis has been buoyed by the fans' support this year. Photos: STEVE WALLER Witches promoter Chris Louis, left, talks with Rory Schlein at the play-off final. Louis has been buoyed by the fans' support this year. Photos: STEVE WALLER

“Everyone knows their roles and we have all spoken in the week building up to this. It has been another year of learning with new personalities and egos in the team and last year was the same. I think we are doing alright and are doing something right somewhere along the line. We just need to go that final step now.”

Certainly the pride has been well and truly been instilled in the Witches badge and for this the club should be proud.

But it would be so nice to win some silverware.

It won’t be easy to beat the Tigers tomorrow night.

But you can guarantee one thing... The Witches will leave nothing on the track, 110% effort is guaranteed – Hawkins will make sure of that.

And how Witches fans would love it, just love it, if their boys could do it.

Tomorrow night’s teams

Ipswich: D King, R/R, C Heeps, K Newman, R Schlein, N Greaves, A Bowtell.

Sheffield: S Nicholls, T Kurtz, L Bjerre, J Bates, K Howarth, J Graversen, G Wood.

Children under-15 go FREE to tomorrow night’s meeting.

Witches last five home results v Tigers:

12.07.17 W52-38

25.03.17 W52-41

08.09.16 W59-34

23.04.16 W51-39

23.07.15 L43-47

On Saturday afternoon, there is a grasstrack meeting at Manor Farm, Gosbeck IP6 9SH, 1.30pm start.

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Sports writer Andy Warren takes a look at Ipswich Town’s business in the January transfer window so far.

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Ipswich Town U18s 2

Dagenham & Redbridge U18s 1

Ipswich Town’s U18 Academy boss Alan Lee praised his side after they progressed in the FA Youth Cup after beating Dagenham & Redbridge 2-1 at Portman Road last night.

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Ipswich Town 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 1

Ipswich Town U18 Academy boss Alan Lee is hoping his young charges can keep up the proud Blues tradition of success in youth football, with victory against Dagenham & Redbridge in the FA Youth Cup Fourth Round tonight, at Portman Road, 7pm ko.

Ipswich Town boss Mick McCarthy believes young defender Chris Smith returned from his loan spell at Chelmsford ‘more of a bloke’ and is hopeful he has a first team future.

Ipswich Town U23 3

QPR 0

Ben Morris hit a brace and Aaron Drinan opened his account in a blue shirt as an experienced Ipswich Town under 23 side eased past QPR 3-0 at Playford Road today, writes Kieren Standley.

FA Women’s Premier League

South East Division One

Ipswich Town 9

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Ipswich Town Ladies bounced back from last Sunday’s disappointing FA Cup exit to Charlton with an emphatic 9-0 trouncing of bottom of the league Haringey Borough at the Goldstar Ground in Felixstowe, writes Kieren Standley.

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