Ipswich Witches have 16 points to make up after first leg play-off defeat at Sheffield Tigers

From the inside: Danny King, Kyle Howarth, Nathan Greaves and Jan Graversen in action during heat 11

From the inside: Danny King, Kyle Howarth, Nathan Greaves and Jan Graversen in action during heat 11 at Sheffield in the first leg of the play-off final. PHOTO: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Sheffield Tigers 53 Ipswich Witches 37

Nathan Greaves and Danny King hold off Todd Kurtz for a shared opening heat in the Sheffield v Ipswi

Nathan Greaves and Danny King hold off Todd Kurtz for a shared opening heat in the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Witches have plenty to do if they are to lift the Championship title at Foxhall Stadium on Saturday night.

Tonight in Sheffield, the inconsistent visitors never threatened to beat the Tigers, but did get back to just eight points behind with three heats to go. The Tigers finished strongly.

This tie is far from over however. The Witches are good at home and the Tigers don’t have the best record in Suffolk. But Ipswich will need to start strong.

Tonight five of the six Witches won heats, but no-one took the meeting the the scruff of the neck.

Rory Schlein leading Todd Kurtz and Nathan Greaves during heat six of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-o

Rory Schlein leading Todd Kurtz and Nathan Greaves during heat six of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final, first leg on Thursday night. - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller


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Nathan Greaves at reserve was the Witches star man with a gutsy nine points and there encouraging rides from all the Witches.

Rory Schlein ended with two last places, but his early guile kept the Witches in the meeting, while skipper Danny King got better as the meeting went on.

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It’s up for grabs, but make no bones about it the Witches can’t afford for anyone to be off colour or produce such inconsistency as was seen tonight.

Greaves made a fine start off the inside in heat one as King tucked in behind him in a shared opening race. Greaves was out in the next but could do nothing as the Tigers’ reserves shot to the front.

Witches riders looking relaxed on a pre-meeting track walk ahead of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off

Witches riders looking relaxed on a pre-meeting track walk ahead of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

It was a blow for the Suffolk side and it got worse in the next after the returning Cameron Heeps, after making a good start, was passed by Lasse Bjerre to join his partner Josh Bates up front.

The Witches needed to settle down and Schlein helped the to do just that, powering from gate three to win. Tom Bacon, guesting for the injured Connor Mountain, battled well for third.

But the Tigers struck back as King found himself with nowhere to go off the outside as Bates and Bjerre did it again with a maximum.

Ipswich were 10 down, but Schlein was at it again in heat six, gating to the front. Greaves joined him as Todd Kurtz threw his bike under Greaves to pass him. Josh Grajczonkek pulled up and underwent treatment on a leg injury he picked up in the race, eventually pulling out of the meeting.

Witches team manager Ritchie Hawkins pictured in the pits at Sheffield. Photo: STEVE WALLER

Witches team manager Ritchie Hawkins pictured in the pits at Sheffield. Photo: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Heeps and Howarth had a battle royale in heat seven, with the Ipswich Witch grabbing the spoils. Newman rode bravely to get into third for a while, but Jan Graversen passed him in a drawn heat seven. Greaves led heat eight but Kurtz passed him as Graversen nipped through. The Witches were now 12 behind and it was 14 in heat nine as Bates lowered Schlein’s colours.

Newman had endured a torrid night with three last places but he won the next and when King won heat 11 the Witches had cut the Tigers’ lead to 12.

And they scored a stunning maximum in heat 12 as Greaves gated and Heeps held off all Bjerre’s attentions. The Tigers struck back with a 4-2 of their own before Bates and Graversen passed Greaves in heat 14. The Tigers ended with another 4-2, leaving the Witches with plenty to think about, but chasing a target well within their grasp.

Rory Schlein congratulates guest Tom Bacon after their heat advantage in heat four

Rory Schlein congratulates guest Tom Bacon after their heat advantage in heat four - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Heat details

1 Grajczonek, Greaves, King, Kurtz 61.9 3-3

2 Wood, Graversen, Greaves, Bacon 62.5 8-4

Rory Schlein leading the way in heat four of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg. Pic

Rory Schlein leading the way in heat four of the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

3 Bates, Bjerre, Heeps, Newman 63.0 13-5

4 Schlein, Howarth, Bacon, Wood 62.1 15-9

5 Bates, Bjerre, King, Bacon 61.6 20-10

6 Schlein, Kurtz, Greaves, Grajczonek (r) 62.3

7 Heeps, Howarth, Graversen, Newman 63.0 25-17

8 Kurtz, Graversen, Graves, Newman 63.2 30-18

9 Bates, Schlein, Bjerre, Bacon 62.9 34-20

10 Newman, Kurtz, Howarth, Heeps 63.4 37-23

11 King, Howarth, Greaves, Graversen 62.3 39-27

12 Greaves, Heeps, Bjerre, Wood 63.1 40-32

13 Howarth, King, Bates, Schlein 62.0 44-34

14 Bates, Graversen, Newman, Greaves 63.1 49-35

15 Howarth, King, Bjerre, Schlein 63.0 53-37

Scorers

Sheffield: J Grajczonek 3, T Kurtz 7, L Bjerre 7+2, J Bates 13, K Howarth 16+1, J Graversen 7+4, G Wood 3

Ipswich: D King 9+1, R/R, C Heeps 6+1, K Newman 4, R Schlein 8, N Greaves 9, T Bacon 1.

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