Witches facing wooden spoon

SO that's it then.Ipswich Evening Star Witches waved the white flag at Foxhall Stadium last night to surrender any realistic hope of avoiding the wooden spoon.

By Elvin King

SO that's it then.

Ipswich Evening Star Witches waved the white flag at Foxhall Stadium last night to surrender any realistic hope of avoiding the wooden spoon.

The Suffolk side, for the first time in memory, are going to finish bottom of the table.

Their fifth home league defeat of the season ended any serious hopes that the Suffolk club had of staying ahead of Belle Vue, the side who are currently propping up the rest.

With this week's signing of Joe Screen the Aces have a more potent look about them – and with Ipswich to ride twice in Manchester they look certs to climb over Ipswich and off the bottom rung.

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What a difference a week makes as the atmosphere at Foxhall Stadium was in complete contrast to last week when King's Lynn were seen off in a pulsating British League Cup encounter.

A thoroughly inept performance from every home rider, apart from Scott Nicholls, led to many frustrated fans making their feelings known during and after the meeting.

With Pole Chris Slabon not riding Ipswich's cause was an uphill one.

They were on the back foot before they started, and rider replacement for the 5.53 average heat leader accrued a paltry four points.

Slabon could not be bothered to fly over and take his place in the team – and this sums up much of the attitude in the Witches Elite League camp.

The rider who did so well at the start of the season is classed as withholding his services and Ipswich have re-declared their official one-to-seven with young Swede Kim Jansson coming into the side for next Thursday's home match against league leaders Poole.

Freddie Eriksson, with a rolling average of 5.52, will become a heat leader – and the Witches side is unlikely to be strengthened by the moves.

Jansson is keen enough but hardly a Greg Hancock, Tomasz Gollob or Craig Boyce – riders who could have given Ipswich a huge lift if circumstances had been right.

News that Steve Johnston is guesting for Jarek Hampel again at Oxford tonight only added to last night's gloom.

The Ipswich management were adamant that Hampel would be riding tonight despite the rider being reported as saying that he wants to take a break from British racing.

He missed last night because of a Polish championship semi-final that saw Sebastian Ulamek suffer an injury that will keep him out of the Oxford side.

Some sympathy has to be given to Ipswich for their current precarious position, which on last night's evidence strongly suggests that the Premier League beckons in 2004.

The wretched rolling averages mean that Ipswich do not have enough leeway to play with to bring in a top rider for an out of form second string or reserve.

However, on this year's figures the combined Ipswich average is 38.38, enough in previous years to have brought in two high-scoring heat leaders for two struggling lower order riders.

The combined team average limit is 46.00, yet Ipswich's hands are tied.

Nicholls, who was paraded before the start with his recently won Championship of Great Britain trophy, won four races, but not one other home rider took the chequered flag.

And only a miserly two heat advantages went Ipswich's way on a slick track that had its preparation marred by a threat of rain.

The Witches limited the damage to less than the 57-33 defeat by Peterborough earlier this year – but it was still a deplorable effort.

Trust Hancock to show what his worth would have been to Ipswich if they had tried one more time to sign him – after the position with the American's Swedish League club had altered.

He team rode splendidly with the impressive Travis McGowan in heat nine and apart from two defeats by Nicholls was in superb form.

What a huge difference it would make if Ipswich had Nicholls or Hancock coming out in at least eight of the 15 heats.

Eriksson just about held his own and Johnston gave his all, but Daniel Nermark and Paul Hurry were particularly disappointing – the latter failing to sparkle in a reserve berth which should present him with easy pickings.

Todd Wiltshire took advantage of the lethargy to start with three straight wins, including a first race win from the gate.

Hurry went too wide on the third lap of heat two to allow Jan Staechmann to pass for third place.

Ipswich found themselves six points down after three heats when Kenneth Bjerre gated to win heat three.

Hancock beat Nicholls the first time they met, but at least Ipswich drew heat four. Any hopes of a home win virtually disappeared when Leigh Lanham and Nermark were left at the back in the following race.

Hancock and then Nicholls gated to wins, before Witches team manager Mike Smillie brought in Nicholls and Johnston as joint tactical substitutes in heat eight.

It was an overkill that guaranteed a 5-1, but left few options later in the meeting.