Battling Town shine at Stoke

Stoke 2 Town 2THE New Year dawned brightly for Ipswich Town when they fielded a depletedside yet still earned a deserved Championship point at Stoke City yesterday.

By Elvin King

THE New Year dawned brightly for Ipswich Town when they fielded a depleted

side yet still earned a deserved Championship point at Stoke City yesterday.

If anybody doubted manager Joe Royle's ability to the lift players or the club's ability to manufacture talented footballers from their Academy their concerns were removed at the Britannia Stadium.

Five of the starting line-up came through the highly regarded Ipswich school of learning while Lewis Price and Owen Garvan were on the bench.

Injuries and a suspension deprived Ipswich of six regulars, and Royle was forced into making half a dozen changes from the side that beat Luton Town on Saturday.

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Pessimists among Town followers were searching in the record books prior to kick-off to take note of the biggest defeat under Royle.

The youngsters the manager had no option than to field would surely get a spanking from a home side virtually at full strength.

But Ipswich were enterprising in midfield where they played some sumptuous football and it was the best opening of the campaign for the Suffolk side.

Stoke hardly had a kick as the visitors swept into a 2-0 lead in 18 minutes, and there were boos ringing round the stadium from Stoke fans who were watching their side being completed outplayed.

With the frailty that comes with youth and inexperience there was always a chance that a mistake would allow the home team back in the match.

And so it proved, when Aidan Collins allowed Guinea international Sam Bangoura to wrestle the ball off him to catch Town undermanned at the back.

Darel Russell stroked home a well-taken goal - and Ipswich looked vulnerable with more than an hour to play.

The visitors began the second period as they did the first, and looked capable of making it a barren holiday period for Stoke, who had lost their previous three matches.

The visitors, without the suspended Richard Naylor, were disadvantaged at the back in the air against the giants that the men from the Potteries turned out.

And this in the end proved Town's downfall when Mamady Sidibe climbed ahead of

Shane Supple to head in a 73rd minute equaliser.

But against all the odds, Ipswich gained the upper hand again after a few scares, and Gavin Williams was denied what would have been a dramatic late winning goal by a good save by Steve Simonsen.

Collins held his hand up and admitted his error, but otherwise he stuck to his task well in what was an important game for the 19-year-old after finding it difficult to cope in his previous first team game - a 4-0 home defeat by Preston.

And Scott Barron, in his full league debut, showed Royle that there is already a capable and promising left back at the club.

The 20-year-old defended stoutly and went forward with gusto in a thoroughly impressive display.

Royle will surely have no fears about selecting the youngster again.

But what made the task of the new boys easier at the back were heroic displays by 35-year-old Fabian Wilnis at right back and the commanding Jason De Vos in the centre.

Wilnis and De Vos, who was celebrating his 32nd birthday, both scored eye-catching goals and both took care of their jobs as well as keeping tabs on the young pups beside them.

Dean McDonald had as much pressure on him as Collins and Barron, and he boosted his reputation with a busy display that kept the home defenders on their toes with some intelligent running and good ball retention.

With Danny Haynes crying off at the 11th hour after having his name originally included on the team sheet, Darren Currie came in after not originally being on the substitutes' bench.

He led Stoke a merry dance in what was a cracking match that would have thrilled any neutrals in the crowd.

But it was not just Currie who sprayed the ball about so fluently and positively for the visitors who wore an all-blue strip.

Williams, about to sign full time for Ipswich after a medical and clearing up of the final details of his transfer from West Ham, showed why Royle is keen to spend £300,000 precious money on the Welshman's signature.

Playing in the left middle of midfield, the 25-year-old worked his socks off after passing a test on a bruised knee and he was a constant headache to the Stoke side.

Matt Richards has to be credited with huge chunks of character and desire to make a niche for himself in midfield after playing over 100 games at left-back.

And Richards was in charge of proceedings for much of the game, ably supported by the effervescent Ian Westlake who is now back to full fitness.

Skipper Jim Magilton's lack of running power in a stamina-sapping fourth game in eight days led to him playing wide on the right where he competed efficiently - with his midfield colleagues covering every blade of grass in out-playing the home side.

Ipswich, who did not play Stoke in 2005 despite both being in the Championship, were left with mixed feelings.

Delight at gaining a point without Naylor and the injured Sito Castro, Nicky Forster, Sam Parkin, Dean Bowditch, and Haynes. But disappointment at letting a two-goal lead slip away.

Sito travelled north but failed a fitness test. Thankfully De Vos was able to plough on despite suffering from a dead leg against Luton, and the Canadian is surely currently playing the best football of his career.

Wilnis will relish his first game of 2006 as well as the old and the young came together to make it a day to remember for all connected with Ipswich Town.

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