Witches aim to end season on a high note

CAN Ipswich Evening Star Witches lift themselves at the 11th hour to reward their loyal fans at Foxhall Stadium this evening (start 7.30pm)?Ipswich end a run of nine consecutive Thursdays night home matches and attendances have remained high – helped by fine weather – despite indifferent results.

By Elvin King

CAN Ipswich Evening Star Witches lift themselves at the 11th hour to reward their loyal fans at Foxhall Stadium this evening (start 7.30pm)?

Ipswich end a run of nine consecutive Thursdays night home matches and attendances have remained high – helped by fine weather – despite indifferent results.

Belle Vue are tonight's visitors in the last Sky Sports Elite League match of the season for the Witches.

There is nothing at stake beyond pride with Ipswich destined to finish bottom of the table for the first time for more than 40 years, while the Manchester-based club can do no better than finish one place above the Witches.

To give their fans their first aggregate bonus point of the season must be the aim of the home side, although it will be no easy task after losing 51-37 in the corresponding away fixture on Monday.

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Jason Crump always rides Foxhall Stadium well, and if any Ipswich rider other than skipper Scott Nicholls beats him it will be a major surprise.

With Joe Screen and Jason Lyons also in their side, the Aces have trump cards at heat leader, with Ipswich looking to gain points against the visitors' bottom end.

Ipswich's lack of top end strength this year is emphasised by the fact that Steve Johnston, a heat leader guest for the Witches a number of times of this year, is only a second string at lowly Belle Vue.

Certainly the track will be much better prepared than on Monday when Paul Hurry suffered a broken arm and Leigh Lanham and Kim Jansson took heavy knocks, with the Swede putting back his own shoulder and expected to ride tonight.

Lanham is riding for Arena-Essex, with Danny Bird coming in. He is likely to have a busy night, along with Jansson as the rider replacement facility for Hurry means extra rides for the reserves and Daniel Nermark.

Jarek Hampel, who attended a press conference at his championship-chasing Polish club Wroclaw last Thursday when programmed to ride for Ipswich in their home meeting against Oxford, is due to ride tonight.

Journalists met Wroclaw coach Marek Cieslak, promoter Abdrzej Rusko and three riders – Hampel, Tomek Jedrzejak and Slawek Drabik.

Many fans have lost faith in Hampel over his frequent absences and it could be his final match for Ipswich.

The 21-year-old Pole is a rising star who on his night can be a match-winner, but perhaps too much has been asked of him this term.

Belle Vue promoter John Perrin said today that Hampel cannot ride tonight as he missed Monday's match through illness - and that means an eight-day ban.

Ironically, Nicholls is likely to lose his place in the pressurised Polish League with Wroclaw in 2004.

A Polish spokesperson said: "Wroclaw fans are angry with Scott, as they feel they have lost matches because of his poor riding.

"In Poland he has struggled losing to a junior who has had a licence for just one year. The fans do not want him back."

Witches promoter John Louis has promised that the club will not make the same mistakes again after a season that has seen just five home league wins and defeats in every away meeting.

"We all know how difficult a season it has been and we just have to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

"All the riders' averages have dropped. But I am not blaming Scott Nicholls who has been superb and his average has been reduced only marginally.

"We tried to build the side around a strong reserve, Tom P Madsen, whose average was over five. We knew that would put pressure on Jarek Hampel and Paul Hurry in the heat leader positions, and we were hopeful they would be okay, but they didn't do it."

Tonight's line-ups

Ipswich: J Hampel, rider replacement, C Boyce, D Nermark, S Nicholls, D Bird, K Jansson.

Belle Vue: J Screen, C Stonehewer, J Lyons, S Johnston, J Crump, N Collins, C Watson.

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