By Henry Chard

When and where

Foxhall Stadium: Thursday 5th April, 7.30pm Kids Go Free

Home meeting sponsor

West Property Management

The teams

Ipswich: 1. Danny King 8.87 © 2. Michael Härtel 5.20 3. Rory Schlein 8.58 4. Cameron Heeps 6.93 5. Nico Covatti 7.49 6. Connor Mountain 3.33 7. Danyon Hume 2.00. Team Manager: Ritchie Hawkins

Peterborough: 1. Scott Nicholls 9.73 2. Emil Grondal 5.04 3. Nike Lunna 5.90 4. Michael Palm Toft 6.77 5. Ulrich Ostergaard 7.12 6. Tom Bacon 2.67 7. Simon Lambert 4.56 ©. Team Manager: Carl Johnson

Referee: C. Gay

The story

The ‘Tru Plant’ Witches will look to finally get their season underway on Thursday as they host local rivals Peterborough in the Championship Shield group stage. The Witches suffered three rain-offs over the Easter Weekend as the weather hit the UK speedway programme hard, much to the frustration of riders, promoters and fans. An opening night against the Panthers is one to relish though as the home side will be keen to get 2018 off to a positive start and put themselves in a good position to kick on in the group. New German signing Michael Härtel will make his debut for the club.

The opposition

The Panthers endured a disappointing league campaign in 2017 missing out on the play-offs but picked up two trophies after winning the Championship Fours on their home track and beating the injury-hit Witches in the Knockout Cup final at the end of the year. There are four changes in 2018 with only Ulrich Ostergaard, Simon Lambert and Tom Bacon keeping their spots for the new season. In comes Ipswich-born Scott Nicholls to spearhead the side at number one with Emil Grondal, Nike Lunna and Michael Palm Toft joining him to give the Panthers a fresh look for 2018.

One to watch

Scott Nicholls made all the headlines towards the end of last season as he guested for Sheffield in the play-off final second leg against his hometown club before guesting for the Panthers in the Knockout Cup final and then he pulled on the Witches race jacket for the second leg at Foxhall. After a winter of confusion over rule changes that prevented Nicholls from riding in the Championship, tweaks were made to the rule to allow the seven-time British champion to take his place in the Panthers side and he will undoubtedly be the man they are banking on to lead from the front.

From the boss… 

‘Tru Plant’ Witches Team Manager Ritchie Hawkins previews Thursday’s clash. 

“I think this is the latest start to a season I have ever been involved in. In a sense, with the lack of fixtures and being a short season, it might work out well.

“Financially, the Easter meetings and the big crowds go a long way to supporting the clubs, everyone will suffer from missing those meetings as they are a big thing in our season. It can’t be helped and we have to make the best of it and we go into Thursday excited and looking forward to it. Peterborough maybe have a slight advantage having got one meeting under their belt.

“We are still expecting a big crowd with it being against Peterborough as there’s the local rivalry there. We have an exciting team again and everyone is excited to see it. The fans backed the team so well last year and the team will do the same again this year so hopefully we can carry on from the end of last season with the big crowd and we have got to put in a good performance.”

The form

The Witches are still yet to take to track this season after their double-header with Lakeside was postponed due to bad weather on Friday as was the fixture at Peterborough on Easter Sunday. Peterborough began their Championship Shield campaign by narrowly beating the Lakeside Hammers 46-44 at the East of England Arena & Events Centre with Emil Grondal scoring 11+1.

What happened last time?

The last time these two sides met at Foxhall was in the final meeting of the 2017 season. The Witches had a four point deficit to make up in the Knockout Cup final second leg and were looking on course to lift the trophy in front of a big crowd until disaster struck in heat six. Captain Danny King suffered a broken wrist leaving the Suffolk side with just five riders on the night. They battled on to somehow secure a 45-45 draw on the night but it wasn’t enough on aggregate as the Panthers lifted the trophy. Cameron Heeps scored 13+1 that evening.