Joe wishing for happy New Year

IPSWICH Town manager Joe Royle is calling for his players to show bags of New Year resolution to make a winning end to 2004 and a successful start to 2005.

IPSWICH Town manager Joe Royle is calling for his players to show bags of New Year resolution to make a winning end to 2004 and a successful start to 2005.

His team may have started this lunchtime's match against Stoke City at Portman Road top of the Coca-Cola Championship, but the wily Town boss knows that it will be a long and winding road to the end of the season in May.

“We were given four tricky games over the Christmas and New Year period,” said Royle before the start of today's match.

“West Ham at Portman Road on Saturday and Plymouth away on Monday will both be severe tests and we can expect no favours.

“On top of that, Stoke have not conceded a goal this month. We must ensure that we are at our best. There are no easy games in this division and we face tricky matches right up to the end of the season.

“We know that we should have beaten Millwall on Boxing Day and a 3-1 defeat only goes to prove that every game is a potential banana skin.”

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Royle was, however, relishing a Stoke match that kicked-off at 12.15pm and was being shown live on satellite television.

He had three good reasons for wanting to maintain Ipswich's unbeaten home record with three points against the side with the best defensive record in the division.

“Firstly, we want the rest of the league to watch us go five points clear at the top of the table before they play their afternoon matches,” said Royle.

“Secondly we want to make up for losing in the corresponding fixture at the Britannia Stadium when we should have won.

“Thirdly, we want to erase the memory of the defeat at Millwall and bounce back as we have after our three previous league defeats this season.”

For a game when the league's leading scorers pitted their wits against the meanest defence, Royle was expected to recall skipper Jim Magilton and leave Kevin Horlock on the bench against Stoke today.

Magilton was rested at Millwall, but he suffered a stiff back after coming on as a second half substitute.

Ian Westlake took a couple of knocks at Millwall and Jason De Vos is suffering from a sore Achilles, while both strikers were also in the wars in a muscular game.

Darren Bent was limping yesterday after a blow on his ankle, while Shefki Kuqi had three different ice packs after a series of bumps and bruises.

“The players had a swim and a massage yesterday,” added Royle. “I think they will all be fit to face Stoke, but we will make a final decision when they assemble at the ground.”

Royle was pleased with what he saw of Danny Karbassiyoon in the final minutes at Millwall, but he was likely to keep Matt Richards, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Sunday, at left back. Arsenal loanee Karbassiyoon will again be one of the substitutes.Royle stressed that Town's fans could have a big say in the outcome of today's match.

“We know it is going to be tough, but our supporters can spur us on to go five points clear,” said Royle, who scotched talk of Everton striker Duncan Ferguson moving to Portman Road.

“Three points today was the target and then we can set our sights on getting the New Year off to the perfect start with a win over West Ham, but every game is tricky.”