Mike Bacon: Ipswich Witches can win the league. Here's why...
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
It's been a long time.
But could 2022 at last be the year of the Witch, with Ipswich Witches again becoming the No.1 speedway club in Britain?
It would be a long time since the last time, were it to happen. Twenty four years in fact since the all-conquering Witches of 1998 were top of British speedway's pile.
Aside from that remarkable treble and a Championship Fours team victory in 2011, the trophy cabinet at Foxhall, that was so adorned with silver throughout the '70s and '80s has remained decidedly bare.
But could that be about to change?
We're half-way through the season in speedway's Premiership and the Witches sit top of the table. There's a long way to go, but with three away wins already bagged and 11 of their 20 League clashes done and dusted, the Witches are looking good for a play-off place among the sport's elite clubs.
The question is, can they not just get into the play-offs, but finish the job off by reaching and winning the final?
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In recent times, the Witches have reached the second tier Championship final and KO Cup final in 2017, but lost both.
And it was back in 2019 they last reached the Premiership play-offs and then, having beaten Poole in a dramatic semi-final, lost heavily to Swindon (led by Jason Doyle), in a one-sided final.
So, still the silverware awaits.
But this year I genuinely think they can win the league. And, among the many reasons why, the aforementioned Doyle is key.
Doyle, a former world champion, is clearly loving his time at Foxhall this year. His demeanour since press day to Monday's win at Wolverhampton has been positive and confident. His riding on track has been exceptional.
The vibes he is giving out to his team-mates, management and fans is helping drive success on track. And long may it continue.
Doyle is bringing the best out of a team which quite frankly I would still suggest is firing only 75%. When you think of what that extra 25% could bring, that's why I think a title tilt is well within their grasp.
Team spirit is the highest I've noted for many seasons. Not that over the years it hasn't been good, but this season it just seems to be a notch above.
Troy Batchelor, who endured such a nightmare 2021 season at Sheffield, is back in partnership with Doyle (they rode together at Swindon in the 2019 Premiership final win over Ipswich) and, while still having the odd duff meeting, is much more like his old self.
Erik Riss, Danny King, Ben Barker and young Danyon Hume are all enjoying their racing. But you sense still have more to come.
King, after a quiet start to the season, is now getting his mojo back. Last night he and Doyle won the third round of the Premiership Pairs at King's Lynn. The Witches now head that table as well after winning the second leg at Foxhall to. Riss banged in 16 points from reserve at Wolves on Monday night in his best-ever Witches meeting and said recently in an interview how much he is enjoying being at Ipswich.
"I've been made to feel really welcome by everyone," he said. "We've got a good team, we have a laugh at meetings, there's a good atmosphere. The club's well organised and professional and I can't say a bad thing about them."
Hume is improving week by week, netting vital points, while Barker and the Ipswich fans have always had a special bond from Barker's previous time at the club. He to has won vital heats.
If Paul Starke can get back fit and raring to go, he's already shown some good form when 100%, then the Witches of 2022 have a chance to write themselves a bit of history.
Of course, all the other Premiership top sides will have something to say about that and Sheffield have already doubled the Witches this season. But it's going to be how you finish that counts, not how you started.
Which is just as well, because the Witches started 2022 in disastrous fashion, with four League Cup defeats.
But as soon as the Premiership season kicked in, so did the Witches. And that's why I say again, this team has every opportunity to make themselves heroes.
There's been slow improvement in almost every rider, aside from Doyle who is at a different level. The Foxhall crowds are healthy, the management team of Chris Louis and Ritchie Hawkins, both former riders, know how speedway riders think. How to get the best out of them.
As I said, there's a long way to go and a lot of laps to race.
The Witches have two big home clashes this month, with Belle Vue at Foxhall next week and Sheffield a week later.
I've seen nothing out there this Witches team should be frightened of. The ball (or clutch cable!) is in their court.
Lifting trophies is what all sport is about and Ipswich Witches, over the decades, have lifted their fair share.
But not for a while now.
It's time for this team to change that. I think they can.
Premiership as it stands
Ipswich.... 11.... 22
Premiership Pairs as it stands
King's Lynn 22
Belle Vue 14