Lee's double a tonic for the Blues

IPSWICH Town supporters enjoyed a day of pleasant surprises on an agreeable winter's day on the south coast.Blues fans have not enjoyed such an occasion for many moons with convincing signs that the tide is turning their way.

By Elvin King

IPSWICH Town supporters enjoyed a day of pleasant surprises on an agreeable winter's day on the south coast.

Blues fans have not enjoyed such an occasion for many moons with convincing signs that the tide is turning their way.

Only the sad news of the death of the river Thames whale spoiled Saturday for the 1,600 Town followers who flocked to St Mary's to make their presence felt.

And this took some doing in a second period that was dominated by what was happening in the stands rather than on the pitch.

Rupert Lowe is currently held in such low esteem by the vast majority of Southampton faithful that they rose to their feet as one at the chant of “Stand up if you want Rupert out.”

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At one time the noise reached crescendo levels, and it was a rather weird experience as Town went about their task of winning three points in a businesslike way.

Which brings us nicely to the first pleasant surprise. Would Ipswich have won without Alan Lee in their side?

Would their dominance over a brittle Saints side have been rewarded without a class act up front?

At this point, Lee's signing for £100,000 looks a bargain - and one that could lead to a move up the Championship table.

It gives hope of better times ahead and could lead to large summer 2006/07 season ticket sales, which would solve one of the biggest problems currently worrying the Town's decision makers.

Town have cried out for a worthy front man for most of the season - to be honest even when Sam Parkin and Nicky Forster were fit.

While they are still in the throes of finding their feet at Portman Road, Lee has fitted in like a glove.

He looked a natural for the lone striking role manager Joe Royle employed him in at St Mary's, showing good pace, strength and a natural goalscoring ability.

After his struggle at Cardiff, Lee was perhaps seen more as a short-term necessity to cover for Ipswich's chronic striker shortage.

But if he keeps up this form - with two splendidly taken goals that coupled strength with finesse - he will add much to the Town cause.

And while Lee was putting the finishing touches to an emphatic fourth away win it was at the back where there were more reasons to be cheerful.

Southampton may be a struggling side still adjusting to the demands of a new manager, but the way they were rendered impotent was encouraging.

Shane Supple has come into the side with such force that Welsh international Lewis Price looks like being a rather unlucky substitute for a while yet.

And Scott Barron has made a difference. He is a natural left-back and complements an experienced back line perfectly.

Jason De Vos has never played better in his distinguished career, while Richard Naylor stands firm at his side.

And Fabian Wilnis is playing like a 35-year-old going on 25, and on this form must stand every chance of gaining a contract extension in the summer.

Not a vindictive person, the Dutchman will still have taken satisfaction from his performance against a manager who may have brought him to English football but later on put him out to pasture for long periods.

While a clean sheet was a boost, the third pleasing aspect of the contest was proving to doubters that Royle is on the ball.

Dealt a cruel hand by financial restraints since he replaced Burley, the experienced manager has faith in his players' ability to make it a much better second half of the season.

And from Supple to Lee his confidence was there for all to see. Jimmy Juan has become a more than competent midfielder and he steps up a notch virtually every game, and it is a blow he must miss the Leeds home game on March 31 after gaining a fifth yellow card.

Owen Garvan needs no endorsement as his skills are there for all to see, while Gavin Williams was playing his part before dazed by a clash of heads.

England Under-21 international Matt Richards came on and ran around effectively to push his claims for a regular place in a Town midfield that is so full of riches the likes of Kevin Horlock can be left at home.

Jim Magilton relished a start against his former club, and Darren Currie's recent good run continued.

When Ian Westlake replaced Magilton - and with Currie playing a slightly forward role - Ipswich had a midfield with an average age of 20.

On his past record, Burley will no doubt turn Southampton around. But Royle well and truly out did him on Saturday.

The fourth satisfying aspect for faithful Ipswich fans was confirmation of the problems that Town chairman David Sheepshanks and his board have had to negotiate.

Some may be of their own doing, but coming out of the Premiership is littered with many potential pitfalls - as Sheepshanks' friend and Southampton counterpart Lowe is now finding out.

Selling 16-year-old super kid Theo Walcott to Arsenal for a down payment of £5million was the final straw for Saints fans after seeing the likes of James Beattie, Peter Crouch, Kevin Phillips and Antti Niemi previously depart.

It must have been purgatory for Lowe to sit through such abuse, and it made the small Portman Road protests over Sheepshanks earlier this season pale into insignificance.

And today how many Town fans want Royle out - just three weeks after such calls were being heard?

Ipswich are unbeaten in the league since December 28 - and the world was a pleasant place on Saturday.

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