Joe: We're good enough to go up

IPSWICH boss Joe Royle today assessed the First Division promotion race and insisted: "I don't think it's ever been tighter."But Royle, still reeling from the disappointment of Sunday's home defeat by new leaders Norwich, was quick to add: "Our target remains a top two place.

IPSWICH boss Joe Royle today assessed the First Division promotion race and insisted: "I don't think it's ever been tighter."

But Royle, still reeling from the disappointment of Sunday's home defeat by new leaders Norwich, was quick to add: "Our target remains a top two place."

And the Town boss confirmed that he is keen to secure the signature of on-loan midfielder Alan Mahon on a full-time contract early next month.

Ipswich's derby defeat may have seen them surrender valuable ground in their bid to regain Premiership status, but Royle refuses to lower his sights.


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He said: "There are probably sides in the bottom ten who still fancy their chances of putting a run together and making the play-offs – that's how tight it is.

"They have seen how we have climbed the table on the back of a decent run and they are probably thinking they can do the same.

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"But I am still looking at us finishing in the top two. I'm not the biggest fan of the play-offs, to be honest. I've experienced both sides of them.

"I was the first manager to lose in the play-offs, when Leeds beat Oldham on away goals in 1987, and then there was the Wembley final in 1999 when I was with Manchester City.

"We were 2-0 down to Gillingham with four minutes left and ended up winning on penalties – give me automatic promotion every time!"

Royle also admitted that capturing the signature of Mahon on a permanent contract remains a priority.

Ipswich are seeking Blackburn's permission to play the former Republic of Ireland international in the FA Cup third round tie against Derby County at Portman Road on Saturday week.

If he plays in that game it will be his last appearance on loan, since his 93-day stint is due to expire on January 5, The Football League confirmed today.

Royle, who has already completed deals for Shefki Kuqi and Chris Bart-Williams to extend their stays, said: "Alan was always going to be the hardest.

"He earns a good salary – and rightly so – with a Premiership club. We will confront that situation in time, but it will all be down to finance."

So has the departure of Alun Armstrong and Matt Bloomfield, and the resultant saving on wages, helped to smooth the way for Mahon's arrival?

Armstrong, 28, has rejoined his former Middlesbrough boss Bryan Robson, now in charge of relegation-haunted Bradford, on a month's loan at Valley Parade.

England Under-19 midfielder Bloomfield has landed an 18-month contract with Second Division strugglers Wycombe Wanderers, now managed by Tony Adams.

Royle added: "It's all part of the on-going trimming and housekeeping at the club, rather than any concerted effort to do with bringing Alan Mahon in.

"Bradford are only paying part of Alun's wages, for example, so it's not going to make a vast difference."

Meanwhile, Royle is confident that central defender John McGreal will shrug off a knee injury picked up on Sunday in time for the Boxing Day trip to West Ham.

But another defender, Richard Naylor, is a slight doubt for the noon kick-off at Upton Park after coming off second best when Norwich new boy Matt Svensson lunged in late to challenge him at the weekend.

Royle said: "Both players are having treatment, but Richard's ankle is a bit puffy and he is the bigger doubt."

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