Witches crash out of cup

OXFORD re-laid their track and made progress to the semi-finals of the Sky Sports Elite League Knock Out Cup.And the changes certainly did not suit Ipswich Evening Star Witches skipper Scott Nicholls.

By Elvin King

OXFORD re-laid their track and made progress to the semi-finals of the Sky Sports Elite League Knock Out Cup.

And the changes certainly did not suit Ipswich Evening Star Witches skipper Scott Nicholls.

The 24-year-old was only denied a

maximum on his last visit to Cowley by an engine failure in his opening ride – but last night he could not find his touch and any slim hopes the Witches had of winning this tie soon evaporated.

Oxford won 49-41 in the first leg at Foxhall Stadium last Monday and it would have taken a superhuman effort by the Suffolk team to win on aggregate and face Poole in the semi-final.

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Chris Slabon was the only Ipswich rider to cross the finishing line ahead of the rest as the fast-gating Silver Machine Oxford held the upper hand from the start on a much smoother surface after 200 tons of shale had been scraped off since Ipswich's last visit three weeks ago.

This may have made for better conditions – and ones that suited the home

riders – but it offered few passing lines and try as he might Nicholls could not make up for some slow starts by getting beyond his opponents.

Ipswich look as though they will soldier on for the time being with their current squad and on this form Monday's home league meeting with leaders Coventry looks a good away bet.

But there was one encouraging sign apart from the two good races by Slabon, and that was the improved form of heat leader Paul Hurry.

He may not have won a race but he was still on the pace and was unlucky not to improve his score when excluded from heat ten after Travis McGowan left him no room as exciting heat came to a abrupt end when Hurry fell and brought down Todd Wiltshire with him.

Ipswich were well served off the track with team manager Mike Smillie joining both father and son John and Chris Louis. But their combined efforts failed to get the best out of the Witches, although as usual there could be no complaints about any lack of effort.

Wiltshire scored a maximum and Nicki Pedersen dropped his only points to Hurry in the last race.

Just as important to Oxford was the

second string score of three wins by Sebastian Ulamek and a double figure return by reserve Charlie Gjedde.

He even beat Nicholls in heat four and it would take some believing if Witches reserve Tom P Madsen could have got the better of either Wiltshire or Pedersen.

Nicholls, who is in the middle of a

hectic period, rode twice in Sweden this week and guests for Peterborough at Oxford tonight before catching an early morning flight to Poland tomorrow.

He then dashes back to ride for Ipswich on Monday and then off to Sweden for a League match Tuesday.

With the Grand Prix season starting on Saturday the king pin Witches rider needs to have better luck than he had last night.

Danny Bird made the best start in heat two but was soon passed by Gjedde as Madsen claimed his only point when he beat the disappointing Jernej Kolenko.

Hurry and Craig Boyce had a thrilling battle in heat three, which the Ipswich man eventually won in a race won by Ulamek.

In heat four Oxford scored a 5-1 to end any hopes of an Ipswich upset and although Slabon won heat five to help Ipswich fall back two points the loss of Nicholls when he went into the fourth bend fence while chasing Wiltshire in heat six was a telling blow.

Nicholls was excluded and Oxford won the re-run 5-1.

Pedersen went past both Ipswich riders on the first lap to win heat seven before Ipswich salvaged some pride with a Polish maximum in heat eight.

Bird pushed Boyce almost into the fence on the first corner of race nine before Hurry's exclusion and subsequent confrontation with McGowan in heat ten.

Wiltshire took a nasty fall but after lengthy attention beat Nicholls in the


It was elementary after that, with Oxford far quicker from the gate and gaining a heat advantage in every race.

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