Festive season turns flat

THIS was not a tasty dish to put before Ipswich Town fans as the festive season turned flat at Portman Road yesterday.Blues supporters feasted on their Christmas turkeys in jolly mood after the win at Sheffield Wednesday raised hopes of a merry yuletide.

By Elvin King

THIS was not a tasty dish to put before Ipswich Town fans as the festive season turned flat at Portman Road yesterday.

Blues supporters feasted on their Christmas turkeys in jolly mood after the win at Sheffield Wednesday raised hopes of a merry yuletide.

But Boxing Day provided a severe hangover, and Town followers trudged home from Portman Road with a bad case of indigestion.

Crystal Palace outclassed Ipswich virtually from start to finish.

Town manager Joe Royle pointed to a lack of fit strikers for this first loss in four Championship matches - and he has a point.

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But with the greatest will in the world it is doubtful whether a fit Sam Parkin or Adam Proudlock or a selected Dean Bowditch would have made any difference.

While Ipswich can gain results against the likes of Wednesday, when up against a side of Palace's quality - when they are on song - the Tractor Boys look second rate.

Royle left Nicky Forster on the bench and played with just one striker at home to Reading - and his team were thrashed. He went for the same formation yesterday - and again his side got bombed.

And the North Stand is getting restless. There was no post-match demonstration, but there were loud chants during the game for the removal of Royle, as the apportionment of blame appears to have switched from chairman David Sheepshanks to the manager.

While the majority were stunned into virtual silence by Palace's domination, the minority showed that patience is running thin.

They found it hard to see why three strikers should have started the game against Wednesday in a 4-3-3 formation, and then just one for a home match nine days later.

Danny Haynes has made himself a favourite with supporters and the 17-year-old impressed when he came on for the final 25 minutes.

And Dean McDonald is another many would like to see given more of a chance. On top of this, Bowditch's hold on Ipswich followers was cemented with his debut display against Norwich and his hat-trick against Watford.

So who is right? A course and distance winner of a manager or fans who pay their money and are entitled to have their say?

The manager will surely still come out on top with most fair-minded and knowledgeable fans.

He knows that teenagers Haynes and McDonald are not experienced enough to do a man's job for 90 minutes as this stage of their promising careers.

And he knows that Bowditch has not scored a first-team goal for Town for well over a year.

On the other hand, there was an argument for giving the lively Haynes his head in the threadbare striking situation the manager found himself.

Whether it would have made any difference is unlikely, but it would have stopped the chants of 'We are supposed to be at home' in reference to the ploy of playing just Forster up front.

Palace's wage bill - post-Premiership - is more than twice what Royle has at his disposal to pay his players and this gives them a huge advantage.

They had five strikers - three on the bench - who would all be first choices if on Town's books.

Because of the much-publicised reasons for Town's dire financial standing they are competing on an uneven playing field against the likes of Palace right now.

Ipswich looked like scoring just once when Jimmy Juan almost got his nose to a free-kick from Darren Currie that bounced just ahead of the baggy-trousered Palace keeper.

Otherwise, the only time they carried any threat was when acting skipper Jason De Vos or his central defensive partner Richard Naylor ventured forward.

The return of Owen Garvan and Ian Westlake - in his 100th league appearance - was a boost, while De Vos gave yet another impressive display at the heart of the defence.

Lewis Price passed a fitness test on a groin injury, but did not appear free with his kicking and on a number of times his direction and power were astray.

Tomorrow's game at Hull now carries extra importance - snow permitting - but it is not easy to see where the goals are going to come from even against a side with much less quality than Palace.

While Ipswich fans were left in despair, visiting supporters went home in great spirits. And if the situation were not so dire for Ipswich right now the performance of the referee would have made the headlines.

In a game that did not contain one really vicious tackle he showed more cards than many folk received for Christmas.

Andy Woolmer made nine bookings and sent off two visiting players to see Palace play the last few minutes of completed time with nine men.

If Jonathan Macken struck Garvan with his hand then he deserved to receive a straight red, but most of the other bookings appeared harsh.

Naylor has now received four yellows to go with one red, while the other Town players cautioned were Juan and Garvan.

Norwich making it three wins on the bounce with a notable victory at Sheffield United only made yesterday more unpalatable and while the P word disappeared off this page a number of weeks ago this beating will surely erase it from the minds of all Ipswich fans as well.

With no chance of any new recruits until January, the next three holiday period matches will be crucial.

Not just to Ipswich keeping clear of the drop zone but to the support the manager will receive from the stands in his quest to make the best of the poor hand that he currently holds.