Bookies give thumbs down to Witches

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches are rank outsiders to win the Sky Sports Elite League speedway title.And if they are proved correct it will signal the end of top flight speedway at Foxhall Stadium.

By Elvin King

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches are rank outsiders to win the Sky Sports Elite League speedway title.

And if they are proved correct it will signal the end of top flight speedway at Foxhall Stadium.

The Witches are priced at 28-1 by William Hill to qualify for and then win the play-offs. This will give the management team of John and Magda Louis and Mike Smillie every incentive to prove the doubters wrong.

Poole are favourites at 6-5, followed by Coventry (3-1), Eastbourne (6-1), Wolverhampton (8-1), Peterborough and Belle Vue (both 11-1) and Oxford (14-1).

Smillie has every confidence his team will do well. "We have a much younger team than last year, but they all have a lot of experience.

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"The three oldest members will be the three newcomers – Paul Hurry, Daniel Nermark and Tom P Madsen.

"We have tried to build a team that will be hard to beat particularly at Foxhall, because if we drop too many home points then we will not reach the play-offs.

"Hopefully we will not struggle too badly on our travels. The one worry is that there may not be anybody other than Scott Nicholls who we can use as a 'natural' tactical substitute.

"I will be adopting a 'horses for courses' policy on tacticals this year. Paul Hurry or Chris Slabon may fly at one track while Daniel Nermark or Jarek Hampel might go well somewhere else – it will be a case of wait and see."

Smillie warned what would happen if the bookies are correct.

"If we drop too many home points and crowds drop, we will be looking for a move into the Premier League next year," he confirmed.

"Some people may say that it is just an idle threat to try to boost crowd levels, but I know that Magda Louis is adamant that we cannot afford as a club to continue losing money."

The Witches have already officially applied for a Premier League spot in 2004, but will stay in the top flight if finances dictate. Last year they suffered a considerable loss.

Ben Howe is the rider set to complete the Witches British League Cup team, with another rule change this week determining that Coventry asset Shaun Tacey is ineligble.

Howe, who has been suffering from the effects of a bad arm injury for some while, started the season with Newport last year.

He is an Ipswich asset and was always a popular member of the Witches side, last riding at Foxhall in the Lawrence Hare special meeting last summer.

Howe, who first rode for Ipswich while still at school, was 28 last December. He must decide whether to opt for Ipswich to ride in what could be just eight qualifying matches, or wait and see if he gets an offer to ride full time in the Premier League.

Jeremy Doncaster is another option the Witches can use. They can use a 4.50 assessed average foreign rider, but the cost of flying him into the country does not make economic sense.

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