No fairytale ending for Town

AFTER a fairytale week for Ipswich Town's supporters, the Lions of Millwall turned into the Big Bad Wolf at The Den.The 6-1 thrashing of Leicester City at Portman Road and the decision of inspirational skipper Matt Holland to turn down a move to Aston Villa had fans dreaming of a huge points haul coupled with the retention of the current work force.

By Elvin King

AFTER a fairytale week for Ipswich Town's supporters, the Lions of Millwall turned into the Big Bad Wolf at The Den.

The 6-1 thrashing of Leicester City at Portman Road and the decision of inspirational skipper Matt Holland to turn down a move to Aston Villa had fans dreaming of a huge points haul coupled with the retention of the current work force.

But a charged-up Millwall put things into a perspective in a rip-roaring contest that could have gone either way.

A share of the points is certainly not a disaster for Town as on this form 2001/02 play-off semi-finalists Millwall will not surrender too many games on their home pitch.

Rumours of problems over bonus payments are believed to have led to the 6-0 romp by Rotherham at The Den a fortnight earlier.

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This result rebounded on Burley's side as once things were settled manager Mark McGhee's team has upped a gear determined to make amends.

They will point to three handball appeals in the penalty area in the second half that an inefficient referee, rightly or wrongly, failed to respond to.

On the other hand, Ipswich seized control for a while in the second period and could easily have added to Darren Bent's splendid 55th minute strike.

So Millwall provided adequate evidence that all First Division sides will not capitulate like Leicester or prove under equipped like Walsall.

Town now know full well will that they will have to fight hard to gain the necessary rewards to regain a coveted Premiership place.

Portsmouth look as though they may possibly take the division by storm while Wolves and Norwich have shown they are capable of mounting a promotion challenge again.

Off the field, everybody at Ipswich will welcome Holland's decision – bar those who have responsibility for finances.

But those currently carrying worried frowns will not be heartened by news that four First Division clubs are currently seeking advice on going into administration.

Such is the current monetary situation, and one that Ipswich know all about. It is not a pleasant experience to have the bank manager banging on your door every other day.

And this is what is likely to happen if a player, or two, is not dispatched from Portman Road by the end of this week, when the transfer window is closed until December.

Consequently, everything is not quite as rosy as it may have appeared last week.

Burley had little choice for his central defensive positions following an injury to Mark Venus. With John McGreal, Wayne Brown and Justin Miller also lame, who would have been Thomas Gaardsoe's partner if Hermann Hreidarsson had accepted West Brom's offer ten days ago?

Burley's decision to go all out for 100 goals has certainly added to the entertainment value in the three Nationwide League games played so far.

But his defence looked ragged at times on Saturday, with the decision to operate with Jermaine Wright at right back in a flat back four a rather puzzling one.

His inexperience in the role, coupled with a conventional left back role for Jamie Clapham after he played most of last season in midfield, added to the problems of dealing with a lively Millwall attack.

To be fair to the back four they received little help from the midfield and at times the home team had men over in the danger zone – including the fourth minute when teenager Ben May scored his first senior goal from an unattended position.

Messrs Wright, Gaardsoe, Hreidarsson and Clapham stuck to their task well and overall came out of the match with credit intact.

It was a big game for Andy Marshall following the gaffe that led to Leicester's goal. The ex-Norwich man looked hesitant at a couple of first-half crosses but got away with the close-range headers that resulted.

Otherwise he did well, but he knows he has an important role to play in what Millwall showed will be a competitive league where any cheap goals to the opposition could prove expensive come next May.

Darren Ambrose's youthful freshness shone through again, and he looked likely to keep up his goal-a-game record on a number of occasions.

But he was thwarted, often at the last moment, as Ipswich sought a winner following Bent's goal.

Bent played in three different roles again as Town began with a 4-4-2 formation before switching to 4-3-3 after half an hour.

When they went back to 4-4-2 towards the end, Bent had moved forward to partner Pablo Counago – but in the final ten minutes or so Millwall wrestled the initiative back.

Holland, as expected, received a wonderful reception from relieved Town fans sitting behind the goal of a ground littered with empty seats.

But he was not at his best in partnership with Tommy Miller, who adds a positive edge to the middle of the park but was unable to stamp too much authority on proceedings.

Up front Burley plumped for a partnership of the two Marcus'. Stewart did very well against Leicester so fully deserved to be retained once Bent (Marcus) had recovered from his hamstring strain.

Burley had a ticklish dilemma about whether to bring Marcus Bent back in his starting line-up. He was in fine form at Walsall, but there was a case for keeping Stewart and Darren Bent in tandem.

Stewart and Marcus Bent did not gel too well last season, which led to the former missing a lot of games after recovering from his facial injury.

Town struggled to make an impact up front in the first period, and just when they had grabbed the upper hand – and grabbed an equaliser – substitutions removed both front men from the firing line.

It was Stewart who set up Darren Bent for his goal, but that proved to be his last touch.

The appearance of Counago and Finidi George at some stage was always likely after their stirring showings in the latter stages against Leicester.

But both found life a great deal tougher against hungry Lions than a depleted Foxes side that had already accepted defeat.

A raised flag saved Town in the 25th minute when Tim Cahill headed in Andy Roberts' floating free-kick. Many times it would have led to a goal, but on this occasion Paul Ifill was judged offside.

And in the 51st minute, Ipswich survived a frenzied goalmouth scramble when May struck the post, Hreidarsson somehow blocked a close-range Neil Harris effort and Clapham stopped Cahill's follow-up effort with his left arm on the goal line.

Referee Steve Baines looked long and hard and allowed play to continue, but the incident could well have led to a penalty and Town reduced to ten men.

There was a case for accidental handball, but the ball travelled eight yards, which many officials would have considered far enough to remove an offending arm.

This good fortune was added to when Steve Claridge's cross struck the raised arms of Wright. This time though it was definitely instinctive and not intentional.

And when the lively Ifill crossed and hit Hreidarsson in the 88th minute, the crowd again made life uncomfortable for Baines.

The Icelander indicated the ball hit his face, but on another occasion the incident could well have led to a spot-kick.

The one-minute silence following the tragedy at Soham saw not a single movement from a head-bowed Ipswich team huddled together on the centre circle.

It took a while to get used to who was who; with Millwall playing in the same shade of blue shirts that Town have as their regular strip.

By this time, Millwall were ahead and threatening to add to their tally. They never did and Ipswich showed enough character and skill to fight back and earn a point, which was no mean feat.

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