Witches throw away Craven Shield chance

IPSWICH Witches saved themselves the likelihood of being annihilated in the Craven Shield final when they were pipped for top spot in the qualifying group by Eastbourne.

By Elvin King

IPSWICH Witches saved themselves the likelihood of being annihilated in the Craven Shield final when they were pipped for top spot in the qualifying group by Eastbourne.

Surely the Suffolk side would have suffered more embarrassment if they had emerged from the weakest group to meet two of the Elite League's strongest sides in the three-legged final.

Yes, Wolves proved more inept than Ipswich over the trio of qualifiers involving lowly clubs that ended at Eastbourne on Saturday night.


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But the way the Witches threw away the opportunity to progress had to be seen to be believed, with young Swede Kim Jansson the worst culprit.

After failing to score a single point in the Foxhall Stadium leg, Jansson possibly killed off his hopes of retaining his Ipswich place in 2007 with another frail display.

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His ability to let his team-mates - and supporters - down by allowing vital points slip through his fingers is not what a successful rider needs.

His “stupid” moments have been fewer this year, but they reared their head at an inopportune moment, ensuring that Ipswich ended yet another season empty-handed.

After crashing when under no pressure in a 5-1 situation in the Ipswich leg, Jansson somehow managed to repeat the feat in heat five on Saturday.

Fredrik Lindgren had gifted Jansson and Joonas Kylmakorpi a 5-1 position by making a mess of the second bend. But lo and behold - when holding a 20-yard lead over his nearest opponent - Jansson managed to lose control on the third lap and end up in an uncomfortable state on the centre green.

A 5-1 at that stage would have surely steadied Ipswich's nerves and dented Eastbourne's resolve.

As it was the Witches lost on aggregate by two points with a heat five 5-1 turning into a 3-3.

But Jansson should not take all the blame.

Remove the efforts of the Ipswich guests over the three legs and they would have finished a poor third.

Taking into account the fact that in this format heat leaders should score freely because they face a second sting or reserve rider every race, it still needed noble efforts by the likes of Coventry's Chris Harris and Scott Nicholls, Oxford's Adam Skornicki and Arena's Essex's Kylmakorpi to enable Ipswich to get as close as they did to a compact Eastbourne side.

An argument could be made that a club that signs a rider - Piotr 'Pepe' Protasiewicz - who apparently shows little interest in this competition does not deserve to succeed.

The sight of Carl Wilkinson working in the pits without the aid of a mechanic does not bode well for the organisation of the Ipswich club. Eastbourne were level on aggregate with the Witches after just six heats with the tape exclusion of Mark Loram in heat four a big blow.

Loram, who made an error when he went too wide and was passed by Fredrik Lindgren on the fourth bend of his second outing, was fooled when David Norris moved forward at the start.

Strangely it was Norris who received an official warning from the referee, while Loram had to re-start 15 metres adrift.

With Kylmakorpi looking none too convincing in heat 11 when he dropped to the back in a race when Ronnie Correy had begun 15 metres behind him, the writing was on the wall for the Witches.

Harris showed the guts lacking in his temporary team-mates when he chased and passed Cameron Woodward in heat 13.

This was after the Eagles pairing had gained a big lead out of the gate after a lengthy re-grading session.

Eastbourne's alleged liking for gamesmanship tactics also came to the fore in the following race after Wilkinson and Chris Kerr tangled as they went into the first bend.

In the minutes before the re-start the solitary raker spent his time pulling shale from under the fence into the route taken by the gate four man as he went from starting line to the opening bend. Not surprisingly it was Rory Schlein, from the outside, who gained a big lead to win comfortably ahead of Loram.

Ipswich won just five of their 12 heats and finished last in eight.

When Jansson was passed by Woodward going down the back straight in heat 16 the 4-2 to the home side effectively meant that they needed just one point from the last race to pip the Witches for a final place.

Ipswich fans will be hoping for a much stronger and more resilient side next year after the downward spiral that has blighted this campaign from mid-season continued to the very end.

WITCHES team manager Mike Smillie had no excuses after his team missed out by two points on a Craven Shield final place.

In what might have been in his final meeting in charge he said: “We made too many mistakes and paid the price.”

Smillie admits that it was has been a disappointing season, adding: “We would have liked to have done better than we did.”

Although in charge of team matters in the treble-winning 1998 campaign it was not until 1999 that Smillie officially took over the team manager's role.

It is believed work commitments might curtail his involvement with Ipswich speedway in 2007.

“I cannot say anything about it until I know more about my work situation next summer and I have spoken to John Louis,” said Smillie.

IPSWICH are to stage the 16-Lap Classic this Thursday after it was rained off last week.

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