Dour defeat a let down for Town fans

RARELY have so many been let down by so few as Ipswich Town's supporters competed with goalkeeper Shane Supple as the club's star turn at Kenilworth Road on Saturday.

By Elvin King

RARELY have so many been let down by so few as Ipswich Town's supporters competed with goalkeeper Shane Supple as the club's star turn at Kenilworth Road on Saturday.

The stand housing visiting supporters at Luton's dilapidated ground, which would struggle to impress even the most tawdry Conference team follower, was filled to capacity.

And the 1,800 Tractor Boys made their presence felt, often out-singing and out-chanting their hosts.

But apart from one Darren Currie shot there was precious little for them to saviour out of this drab contest.

Chairman David Sheepshanks is right to be worried about the future of the club as this rank bad display could not have come at a worse time.

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If fans vote with their chequebooks and decide against buying season tickets next season, the drop in revenue will have serious repercussions at Portman Road.

Supple and Owen Garvan - two youngsters beautifully equipped to bring the good times back - could be forced out if finances dictate that the saleable must be sacrificed in the summer to keep the club within the strict rules laid down when they came out of administration.

One glimmer of hope in all this is the ability of manager Joe Royle. As this correspondent has stressed

many times, he should never be underestimated.

Royle was as a disappointed as the 1,800 faithful after Steve Howard's 81st minute header gave the Hatters the points.

In well-documented circumstances, Royle has worked wonders to relieve Town of any relegation fears with still five games to go.

And there have been frequent signs of the shoots of recovery coming through. But will they blossom?

With the current squad, Royle has a realistic chance of hitting the play-offs for the third time in his four-year reign at Portman Road. If his team clicks early on, it could even be the top two.

But if his playing strength gets depleted it is likely to mean another three steps back before making any forward movement.

The manager has surely had enough to bear already after arriving at Ipswich in the autumn of 2002 with the task of lifting the “stars” of 2001 back into the Premiership.

Those heady days appear a long way off now and the sight of

the umpteenth front-line pairing struggling to make any impact summed up Royle's plight.

Alan Lee and Richard Naylor failed to get a shot at goal in earnest between them and as hard as the former worked and the latter tried Luton were rarely threatened.

Seeing Naylor, who has turned himself into a fine central defender in the last couple of years, willingly do his best in what is now a foreign position shows what a crippling effect the catalogue of injuries have had on Ipswich.

Apart from Ricardo Fuller, not one Town front man has scored since the 2-1 win at Crewe on Valentine's Day, and on April Fool's Day that was no joke.

Fuller scored twice for Southampton on Saturday to improve the possibility of him seeing out his contract on the south coast next season after his Saints manager George Burley said: “Ricardo came back from his loan at Ipswich so sharp that I could not help but put him back in the team.”

Salt in the wound time, or what?

Town's strikers on Saturday were not helped by a midfield that collectively had an off day. Darren Currie had one of his “Shefki Kuqi” off days when little would go right, and Matt Richards was knocked out of his stride by an early knock.

Credit must go to Luton, who had done their homework on Garvan, and situated a man not far from him for most of the proceedings. This coupled with a bobbly pitch nullified the young Irishman, while Jimmy Juan also found it difficult to impress on his first visit to a rustic place like Luton.

Castro Sito has many good qualities but his habit of laying himself open to blame for opponents' goals will affect his first team opportunities. If he had cleared a simple ball just prior to the goal, Town would have collected a point - and the world would be a much brighter place right now.

And referee Lee Mason, who incorrectly sent Sito off against Norwich, did Town no favours. The referee-baiting has perhaps gone a bit too far this season, but the official was setting himself up to point to the penalty spot after Juan had been tackled from behind by Marcus Heikkinen.

Then, as if his body had been taken over by an outside power, his left hand suddenly jutted out and the official was left to sheepishly defend his change of mind in giving a corner.

A goal then for Richards and it could have been a different outcome.

Jay McEveley came through reasonably well after a sticky start on his return after suffering a serious knee injury at Cardiff in November. Whether he becomes the extra defender Royle says he wants next season remains to be seen.

Dean Bowditch, back from a loan at Wycombe Wanderers, came on as a substitute for his first senior Ipswich game since the home 1-0 win over Luton on New Year's Eve.

On a ground that Town have not visited in the league for a decade, he was unable to raise the tempo. Bowditch could well feature in the reserves for the home game against Charlton at Portman Road tonight.

Take a bow Town fans. If you want to show what superlative supporters you are, another 11,000 season ticket sales in the few weeks are desperately needed.