Joe: We'll be better next season

IPSWICH boss Joe Royle today gazed into the future and promised fans: “We will be better next season.”Realistically, while it may remain mathematically possible to qualify for this year's play-offs, Town are preparing for their fifth term at Championship level since relegation from the Premiership in 2002.

By Mel Henderson

IPSWICH boss Joe Royle today gazed into the future and promised fans: “We will be better next season.”

Realistically, while it may remain mathematically possible to qualify for this year's play-offs, Town are preparing for their fifth term at Championship level since relegation from the Premiership in 2002.

A lot of the ground work has already been completed, with the club announcing the big decisions as to which players are being retained and released.

Royle said: “One thing's for sure - we won't have the same summer of uncertainty that we had last year.”

Town went into the current campaign having lost the services of five key players - Kelvin Davis, Tommy Miller, Shefki Kuqi, Darren Bent and loanee David Unsworth.

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Royle admitted: “Secretly, I was worried that we were going into the season weak, but things evolve quickly in football and I think we are finishing with a far stronger squad.

“It has been an erratic season - equal in terms of both despair and promise - but I feel we are now close to a squad that can really take us places.”

Royle has recently been busy trimming his squad by confirming that young defenders Aidan Collins and Gerard Nash, currently on loan at Stockport and Southend respectively, will be released.

There will be no contracts, either, for strike pair Dean McDonald and Adam Proudlock, while defender or midfielder Scott Mitchell is also on his way.

Skipper Jim Magilton will depart along with Kevin Horlock, who is on loan at Doncaster, while there is uncertainty over the future of French midfielder Jimmy Juan.

Central defender Jason De Vos yesterday signed a contract extension that ties him to the club until the summer of 2008 and up-and-coming Irish defender Chris Casement also signed a deal that keeps him at Portman Road for another two years.

One of the season's biggest success stories, five-goal Juan is a summer target for Royle if Monaco can be persuaded to do business.

But even if Juan is out of reach, the Ipswich boss will definitely be in the market for a couple of new players - a central defender and a striker.

He added: “People are already identifying Ricardo Fuller and I wouldn't argue with that, although I have yet to speak to Southampton about signing him on a permanent basis.”

The defensive reinforcement could well be Jay McEveley, back on loan at Portman Road from Blackburn after knee surgery saw him miss a large chunk of the season.

McEveley's versatility, in being able to play in the centre of the defence or at left-back, makes him an attractive option to Town as they continue to watch the pennies.

Royle said: “We are now on our second side of the season because of the disruption caused by injuries. We have a remodelled midfield, for example, and have had to get along without the players we brought in to play up front - Sam Parkin and Nicky Forster.“We have had youngsters like Owen Garvan bursting through, Matt Richards has reinvented himself and Jimmy Juan has turned out to be every bit as good as we expected.

“It would be nice to sort something out with Monaco for Jimmy - and don't forget Gavin Williams, who will weigh in with goals when he is fit again.

“Even if we were going into next season without any new signings I would be optimistic, but at the very least I expect to sign one new player.”

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