Rock bottom to top of the table... Ipswich Witches turn it round
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
When Ipswich Witches beat Wolverhampton Wolves at Foxhall recently they went to the top of the Premiership. MIKE BACON takes a look at how they got there... and what’s ahead.
On Saturday, June 18, 2016, Ipswich Witches rode at Berwick in a Championship clash.
They lost 33-60 and with it dropped to the bottom of the table - in the second tier of speedway in Britain.
It was an ignominious position for the club who have a history in the sport to die for. Indeed it was little more than a disgrace.
From being one of the biggest and most successful speedway clubs on the planet, especially in the '70s and '80s, as well as an all-conquering 1998 side - to also-rans.
A low point.
However, almost three years later and the Witches are flying high once more.
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It's been a journey.
The signing of Ben Barker just before that Berwick debacle in 2016 was a big step as the confidence-drained Witches went on a fine run that saw them go from the bottom of that Championship table to the play-ofs where they lost to Somerset in the semi-finals.
One year later and another good signing, this time Rory Schlein, saw the Witches enjoy their best season for a decade as the Foxhall team just missed out on silverware in heart-breaking circumstances to Sheffield in the play-off final and Peterborough in the KO Cup final.
But the seeds had been sewn.
The crowds had flocked to watch a winning side.
An injury-ravaged 2018 where 'guests' were one of the highest appearance makers for the Witches was a frustration, but the emergence of young Drew Kemp and the improved form of Cameron Heeps, gave room for optimism.
A change at the top in 2019 saw Keith Chapman take over as owner and the Witches move up into the Premiership. What a decision that has proved.
After beating Wolverhampton Wolves at Foxhall recently the Witches went to the top of the table. Crowds are up and entertainment is high.
Bottom of the Championship to top of the Premiership in three years.
A healthy team spirit and a team boss in Ritchie Hawkins who has sound man-management skills, is reaping rewards. And the fans love it.
The Witches are back where most in the sport would say they should be, competing against sides they have spent most of their history competing against.
Back at the top table... Long may it continue.
This season has seen the team win four of their five Premiership clashes so far...
Thursday, April 18
v BELLE VUE (H)
Scorers Cameron Heeps 12+1, Richard Lawson 11+2, Krystian Pieszczek 8, Danny King 6+2, Rory Schlein (g) 6+1, Jake Allen 5+3, David Bellego 4+1.
This was a crucial meeting for the Witches.
With two challenge meetings and two Supporters' Cup meetings behind them, this was the real deal, their first meeting back in the Premiership - they didn't disappoint.
With No.1 Chris Harris nursing an injury, Rory Schlein was called up as a guest and performed solidly enough.
Belle Vue started with a 5-1 heat advantage, but the Witches soon got into their stride and by heat eight were 12 up.
Cameron Heeps and Richard Lawson were the main men and the Witches were up and running.
Monday, April 29
v WOLVES (A)
King 10+2, Allen 10, Heeps 9, Pieszczek 5+1, Harris 3+1, Lawson 3, Bellego 0
Six points up after four heats the Witches left Monmore Green disappointed not to even pick up a losing bonus point.
Wolves fought back well in the middle of the meeting and Heeps took a nasty fall after clashing with home man Scott Nicholls.
Harris, David Bellego and Lawson all failed to impress, although Danny King was good value for his paid 12.
But this was a missed opportunity.
Monday, May 6
v KING'S LYNN (H)
Scorers: Lawson 12+1, Bellego 10, Allen 9+1, King 6+1, Heeps 6+1, Pieszczek 4+1, Harris 1
A big Bank Holiday crowd wondered if the Witches could see off their Norfolk rivals as they had done so easily in the Supporters' Cup a few weeks earlier.
The answer was, yes! And how the Foxhall fans loved it.
David Bellego enjoyed his best meeting for the Witches and Lawson continued to impress. Harris only notched a point, but such was the Witches strength in depth, they never looked like losing.
Monday, May 13
v PETERBOROUGH (A)
Lawson 9+2, Allen 9, Harris 9, Heeps 8+2, King 8, Pieszczek 4+1, Bellego 4+1
One look at the Witches scorers tells the story of this meeting.
The team had been built for solidity and they didn't disappoint at the East of England Arena, having this meeting wrapped up with a heat to go.
Just to make sure of all four points, the Witches hammered home a 5-1 in heat 15 and became the first side in the Premiership to win away from home in the 2019 campaign as they shot to the top of the table.
Monday, May 20
v WOLVES (H)
Heeps 15+1, King 12+1, Lawson 7, Pieszczek 6+3, Harris 4+1, Josh Bates (g) 2, Bellego 0
A Cameron Heeps-inspired Witches got the better of the Wolves after a topsy-turvy tussle at Foxhall.
Six times the lead changed between the two sides who were sitting top and second but still Ipswich came out victors, thanks to a brave heat 15 ride by King.
Not a classic performance from Ritchie Hawkins' men... but when you can win when not at your best....
v BELLE VUE (A)
Monday, June 3
Big test this for the Witches on the huge Manchester bowl.
A great race circuit and one most of the Witches know well. If they can nick a losing bonus point that won't be too bad. But they'll be going for the jugular and why not?
Prediction: 48-42 to Belle Vue.
v PETERBOROUGH (H)
Thursday, June 6
The Panthers have made a couple of changes of late with Scott Nicholls back in their fold. But this has got to be about the Witches. Their home form so far this season has been solid. Hit hard from the off!
Prediction: 50-40 to Witches