LEICESTER’S interest in the Premiership KO Cup was ended with a 47-43 defeat at Ipswich on Thursday, meaning a ten-point aggregate defeat.

The Watling JCB Lions had given themselves a mountain to climb by losing the first leg at home on Easter Monday, but they did have hopes of a turnaround given the injury crisis currently being suffered by the Witches.

However, 46-year-old Scott Nicholls – who captained the Lions to the Championship title back in 2019 – turned in a sublime performance in a guest appearance for another of his former clubs, racking up 17 points from six rides to help steer the Witches through in tricky track conditions due to adverse weather at Foxhall.

Nicholls dropped his only point to the Lions’ Richard Lawson in Heat 15, by which time the tie was already secure for the hosts, who had confirmed their progression with a 4-2 from Emil Sayfutdinov and Troy Batchelor in Heat 13.

Lions did inflict some early pressure with a 5-1 in the opening race from Lawson and Max Fricke over Sayfutdinov to cut the aggregate gap to just two points.
But the Witches hit back straight away with maximum points in Heat 2 after Craig Cook came to grief, and Leicester’s hopes of getting back in touch on aggregate were then thwarted by Nicholls and Sayfutdinov, who reeled off a string of race wins.

It limited the Lions to four victories on the night, three of them coming from Lawson whilst the other was taken by Ryan Douglas in Heat 14.

The scores on the night remained level all the way from the end of Heat 2 to the end of Heat 7, but the tie went away from the Lions when they conceded two 5-1s in the next three races.

First Jordan Jenkins and Dan Thompson got the better of Lawson and Sam Hagon in Heat 8, and then Sayfutdinov teamed up with Keynan Rew over Sam Masters in Heat 10 with Douglas coming down on the last lap.

That increased the aggregate gap to 14 points and although Lawson and Fricke gave the Lions hope with another 5-1 in Heat 11 after Rew had come down, they were unable to make any further progress and wins for Nicholls and Sayfutdinov in the next two heats wrapped things up.

Lions manager Stewart Dickson said: “We started with a 5-1 but then we lost a 5-1 immediately, so any momentum we had was gone.

“We weren’t able to get the heat advantages we needed, and Scott Nicholls had one of those nights, he was really good, and of course so was Emil as well.

“It was there for us with them having a weakened team, there’s no doubt about that, but good teams find a way to win, and that’s what they did.

“I can’t be overly critical or upset. It was a difficult track and both teams did well to get on with the meeting. It’s just a shame with the way the weather has been this year that you’ve got to put meetings on in these conditions.

“Ipswich deserve their place in the semi-finals, there are no complaints from me, and we now move on to Monday.”

The Witches therefore advance to face Birmingham in the KO Cup semi-finals, whilst the Lions turn their attentions back to the ROWE Motor Oil Premiership and an important trip to Oxford on Monday.

IPSWICH 47: Scott Nicholls 17, Emil Sayfutdinov 13+1, Keynan Rew 6+2, Jordan Jenkins 5+1, Dan Thompson 3+1, Troy Batchelor 3, Jason Doyle r/r.
LEICESTER 43: Richard Lawson 12, Luke Becker 8+1, Sam Masters 6+1, Max Fricke 5+3, Ryan Douglas 5+2, Craig Cook 5+1, Sam Hagon 2+1.
Ipswich win 95-85 on aggregate

Photo credit: JEFF HIGGOTT

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