Ian keen to crown year with play-off joy

IPSWICH ace Ian Westlake has come a long way in a short space of time.And the 20-year-old's journey is far from over, with promotion to the Premiership pencilled in to make his season complete.

IPSWICH ace Ian Westlake has come a long way in a short space of time.

And the 20-year-old's journey is far from over, with promotion to the Premiership pencilled in to make his season complete.

Westlake has had a meteoric rise to fame after only making his first senior start in August, against tomorrow's visitors West Ham.

Since then he has not only established himself in boss Joe Royle's starting

line-up, but also been crowned player of the year by the fans.

But the all-action star wants more and is determined to help fire Ipswich back into the Premiership via the play-offs.

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Academy graduate Westlake said: “It is brilliant for me and brilliant for the team and the club that we're in with a shout. Everybody is really excited about what could lie ahead.

“But when I look at all four teams in the play-offs I can't pick a favourite. We are all evenly matched and we have shown we can all beat each other.

“West Ham are a good side and have changed a fair bit since I faced them in August. But they still have top players and, like us, they want to play football. I think we are in for two pretty open games.”

Westlake seems to improve with every game he plays and his seven-goal haul includes a number of key contributions.

But none has proved more vital than his equaliser at Bramall Lane last month, when defeat to rivals Sheffield United would have dealt a massive blow to Town's play-off chances.

Westlake said: “Willie (Donachie) is a very positive coach and he has encouraged me to get forward as often as I can.

“He has given me that licence because he says I have the energy to get back, but it's a team effort and if I make forward runs I always know I'm going to get the service.”

Town boss Royle has virtually everyone available to him after midfielder Tommy Miller's recovery from the bruised and swollen left foot he picked up against Cardiff last weekend.

Royle said: “A clean sheet would be nice, so that we don't necessarily have to score two goals to win the game.

“We can definitely get at them, but our cavalier, gung-ho attitude has cost us dearly at times this season and that's something we must bear in mind.” Royle cast his mind back to the Cardiff game and added: “I didn't enjoy that game and it must have been a nightmare for the fans. We were abysmal as an attacking force and will be better against West Ham.

“I'm not going to plead for patience from our supporters. They have been patient for two years - all I ask is that they come along and cheer the team.

“These people have been living on bread and water and it would be nice if we could give them a little bit of champagne.”

Hammers' boss Alan Pardew is hoping it will be a case of third time lucky in the play-offs after two near misses.

He led Reading through the Second Division play-off semi-finals against Wigan in 2001, only to lose the final to Walsall.

And it was the same story last year, when the Royals finished fourth in the First Division, only to lose out over two legs to eventual winners Wolves.

Pardew, who also secured automatic promotion from the Second Division for the Berkshire club in 2002, said: “My holidays don't ever really seem to get a look-in! I've been in this situation before and hopefully I've picked up a few things along the way.

“I'm also feeling quite comfortable about the fact that even some of our younger players have experience of playing in these sort of games - like Marlon Harewood with Nottingham Forest last year - and I think that's an important factor.”

Pardew confirmed he is happier to be meeting Ipswich at this stage of the knockout phase, but also recalled his side's 2-1 defeat to them at Upton Park on Boxing Day.

He said: “That wasn't a particularly happy time and Ipswich inflicted a defeat on us that signalled a few changes.

“I think it's going to be tight and I've never known a play-off that wasn't exactly the same. But, if anything, I'd rather be playing Ipswich over two legs than in the final.

“They're a good side and they've got a manager in Joe Royle who's more than been round the block. I'm sure he'll be making good use of his experience and guidance over the two games.”

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