Woe for legend Bert as Witches slump

BERT Edwards' offer to help out the Ipswich Evening Star Witches may have been tongue in cheek, but the 87-year-old former captain of the Suffolk side has a point.

By Elvin King

BERT Edwards' offer to help out the Ipswich Evening Star Witches may have been tongue in cheek, but the 87-year-old former captain of the Suffolk side has a point.

When he rang The Evening Star office to inquire about the welfare of the Witches, the legendary rider from the halcyon days of the 1950s said he had better get his leathers out again.

And this was before last night's thrashing by Sky Sports Elite League leaders Coventry.

Television viewers have witnessed two embarrassing defeats over the bank holiday weekend, and the good news for Witches fans is that at least their heroes fared slightly better than Britain's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

They did score some points, but not enough to cause the table-topping Bees to break into a sweat.

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Two Ipswich heat advantages in the last two heats did put a little respectability into the scoreline.

Edwards, who hopes to visit Foxhall Stadium later in the season, said from his Harrow home: "It is sad to see the club struggling this year. I enjoyed such wonderful times with the Witches and the club can be such a magical place when results are going their way."

A narrow victory over Belle Vue last Thursday raised hopes of a revival in Ipswich's fortunes, but big defeats at Eastbourne on Saturday and at Coventry last night have soon put an end to that.

Now that Ipswich have ridden 12 matches, new averages come into force giving more scope for changes.

And it looks as though they will be made if the season is to offer anything other than a straight fight with Belle Vue to avoid the wooden spoon.

Rolling average restrictions have not helped either Ipswich or the Aces – but both have riders capable of producing more than they are at the moment.

Coventry have won all their home meetings this season and Ipswich gave them one of their toughest matches on March 22 in the corresponding A fixture.

Last night nine successive home heat advantages were only interrupted when tactical substitute Scott Nicholls and the impressive Chris Slabon earned a 4-2 to Ipswich in heat eight.

It started well enough despite Billy Hamill scorching to the fastest time of the season at Brandon in heat one.

Jarek Hampel pushed Billy Janniro wide and the visitors earned a 3-3. Tom P Madsen, the most vulnerable if a change is made, then gated to lead until the final corner of race two.

Then Stuart Robson put the pressure on and the Dane made an error to turn a 4-2 Ipswich advantage into another drawn race.

Heat three started promisingly with Daniel Nermark and Paul Hurry tucked in behind Lee Richardson.

Coming out of the fourth bend, Ryan Fisher made ground on Nermark and hit him from the side. Both riders tumbled spectacularly for 60 yards down the home straight.

Nermark was rather unlucky to be excluded although it was a difficult decision to make and Fisher was left to eventually withdraw from the meeting with a back and neck injury.

Coventry's fast-gating saw them eight points ahead by the time former Witch Jason Bunyan combined with Richardson for a 5-1 in heat seven.

Bunyan was helped when Hurry went too wide and took Nermark with him on the first turn.

Hurry almost immediately slowed and took no further part suffering a reaction to his hand injury despite winning a grass-track meeting on Sunday.

Slabon was nudged wide by team-mate Nicholls in heat eight, but he fought back to pass Janniro on the fourth bend.

Ipswich's top two – Nicholls and tactical substitute Hampel - were out-gated by Richardson and reserve Robson in heat nine.

Robson has been paid for double figures in all Coventry's home Elite League matches this campaign and is being pushed for a wild card place in the British Grand Prix in Cardiff in just over two weeks.

Slabon battled well in heats ten and 11, but the Bees lead continued to increase on a track where gating was so vital.

Former world champion Barry Briggs was track-side to promote his invention of a swivelling circular grader and although his equipment may have worked well it did little to add any grip to the track.

Nicholls, who changed machines before heat eight and then tinkered before reverting back by heat 13, came to life and showed full commitment to deny Hamill a maximum with wins in heats 13 and 15.