Tai and mighty
Tai Woffinden's timely return can help Wolverhampton conquer Birmingham on Monday, says Kelvin Tatum.
Last Updated: 01/07/12 9:59am
Wolverhampton will be extremely disappointed to be sitting in eighth place in the Elite League.
The Wolves, who won the division in 2009, are used to being a top-four team, but they have been hit by injuries so far this season.
Tai Woffinden has been out for some time with a hand issue but he should return against the Brummies on Monday night, and that will be a massive boost for the Wolves. He has a combination of exuberance and class and is without doubt a very talented rider.
Woffinden has always had terrific natural ability but he hasn't always focussed as well as he should have done. Prior to this injury, though, he was beginning to look like a rider that had really matured.
Peter Karlsson is not in the Wolves team this season and that has given Tai the chance to be the main support to Freddie Lindgren. The team's fans will be hoping he can fill that role once he is injury free.
Lindgren is a world-class rider and has been in wonderful form this term, for Wolves and also in the last three Grands Prix, in Sweden (which he won), Denmark and Poland.
But he cannot do it alone and I think Wolves are one rider short of being able to secure a top-four finish, despite the fact that spot is up for grabs.
Nicolai Klindt has been recalled and if he can rediscover some of the form he showed at Swindon maybe Wolverhampton can sneak into the play-offs but, so far, they look a bit weak.
Birmingham are enjoying just their second full campaign in the Elite League.
After finishing one place off the bottom last year, they have revamped their team with a clutch of pre-season signings, including the vastly-experienced Bjarne Pedersen.
The Dane is supplemented by Sebastian Ulamek and Danny King and the Brummies now have a very solid backbone - and serious ambitions to make the top four. I think they can make it if they get their act together.
Birmingham are fifth at present and haven't quite clicked as a team, though that has a lot do with the dreadful weather we have had which has wreaked havoc with the fixtures.
Pedersen has yet to really fire this term, which is a tad surprising considering how well he knows the Elite League. He has been shovelled around recently, though, taking in spells at Poole, Eastbourne and now at Birmingham and perhaps that has unsettled him.
He could be getting to grips with living in another part of the country, or maybe he has not yet become accustomed to riding around the Brummies' track.
Young Josh Auty has stepped up to the plate, however, and was excellent in the recent 46-46 draw with league leaders Poole. I am really pleased for the lad.
He is someone who has long been expected to make a breakthrough and that pressure is not easy to deal with, but he is now finding his feet in the Elite League. That is good news for him and British speedway because we need to see young riders making their way.
The Auty-Pedersen tandem should work well for Birmingham over the rest of the season. Auty has that dynamism which can infect a team, while Pedersen can pass on his experiences to the up-and-comers and give them a helping hand if they are struggling somewhere, such as in terms of bike set-up.
Poole were understrength in that draw with Birmingham, but the Brummies will take massive confidence from matching the table-toppers. However, I would expect Wolves to win Monday' clash if Woffinden is fully fit
There are big question marks over that and if he is below par Birmingham might nick it, but I can see the Wolves man getting eight or nine points and that should be enough to see Woffinden's side home.
TALE OF THE TRACK
You need good technical ability around Monmore Green. It is a fast track but you need to turn the bike hard. As an away rider, it is not a track that you find easy to negotiate. If you are fully focussed you can accrue points but it is very demanding and you can't be complacent.