Speedway: Middleditch backs Ward to inspire Poole Pirates' title tilt

Bournemouth Echo: CONFIDENT: Poole Pirates boss Neil Middleditch CONFIDENT: Poole Pirates boss Neil Middleditch

TEAM boss Neil Middleditch has backed his new-look side to make the Elite League play-offs in 2014 – but admitted Darcy Ward’s retention was the key to Poole Pirates’ hopes.

The Wimborne Road manager declared himself pleased with promoter Matt Ford’s winter recruitment drive which has seen six of Pirates’ seven team slots allocated ahead of the new season.

Czech rookie Vaclav Milik has joined the trio of last season’s title winners Maciej Janowski, Josh Grajczonek and Ward in the top five, while Kyle Newman and Lee Smart filled Poole’s reserve berths under the new draft system.

Those acquisitions have allowed Ford a generous allowance of 7.50 points in his search for a fifth senior rider with the final piece of the Pirates puzzle expected imminently.

But even with the picture not yet complete, Middleditch insisted Ford’s ability to retain Poole’s star attraction Ward would provide the platform for another title tilt in Dorset next season.

Middleditch told the Daily Echo: “The team looks good and, with Darcy steering the ship again, we have every reason to be confident.

“He did an amazing job as captain after taking over from Chris Holder last season and if the team can gel quickly we are certainly capable of making the play-offs.

“Darcy is, without doubt, one of the most exciting speedway riders in the world and making sure he stayed with us was our biggest piece of business.

“He is still a young man who has had his share of problems both on and off the track but he has matured as a person and as a rider over the past year and this season could be one of the biggest in his career.”

Meanwhile, Middleditch feels the new reserve system could prove a great leveller during the opening weeks of the campaign and reiterated the need for strength throughout the top five to be competitive.

“The way the teams have to be built has thrown up difficulties for everyone,” he added.

“While the reserve riders will be important, the draft system dictates you cannot afford to carry any passengers in your top five. Each rider has to score consistently because the standard will be that bit higher.

“I am looking forward to seeing how the race line-ups are put together and it will be an interesting first few weeks of the season while things level out with the new rules.”

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