Royle eyes Reds star

LIVERPOOL youngster Neil Mellor is firmly in Joe Royle's thoughts as the big kick-off approaches.The Town boss, committed to bringing in loan reinforcements next term, today admitted that the 20-year-old Anfield ace would be an ideal candidate to answer a Portman Road SOS.

By Mel Henderson

LIVERPOOL youngster Neil Mellor is firmly in Joe Royle's thoughts as the big kick-off approaches.

The Town boss, committed to bringing in loan reinforcements next term, today admitted that the 20-year-old Anfield ace would be an ideal candidate to answer a Portman Road SOS.

Royle said: "Neil is a very promising player and if we had to look for a loan striker he would definitely fit the bill.

"It's not a position where we need strengthening at the moment but I like Mellor. He's one I would consider if I had to."

Mellor made his senior debut against Ipswich at Anfield last season in a Worthington Cup fourth round tie eventually decided on penalties.

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His most telling contribution was to earn the 54th minute spot-kick, conceded by Mark Venus, that enabled a weakened Liverpool to cancel out Tommy Miller's early opener.

But, Mellor or not, Royle confirmed he is likely to draft in a number of loan players to supplement his ranks in the eagerly awaited 2003-2004 campaign.

Football League rules allow clubs to bring in as many as eight players on a short-term basis – between 28 and 93 days in one season.

Clubs can only field four short-term loan players at any one time and long-term loans, including season-long deals, are also a possibility – but all arrangements have to be finalised before December 31.

Royle added: "I am delighted with the quality of our first 14 or 15 players, but after that we are a bit thin.

"Last season even Portsmouth, the champions, made good use of loan players, as did other clubs like Wolves, Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest to good effect."

With Ipswich being in administration for the final three months of last season and a Football League transfer embargo in place, Royle's hands were firmly tied.

He added: "The availability of the loan system could make a big difference. Not being able to bring in a centre-half, or even a keeper, cost us a play-off place last season."

Meanwhile, it seems Leicester's interest in Ipswich striker Marcus Bent appears to be on the wane.

Royle said: "Their manager, Micky Adams, spoke to me about Marcus some weeks ago. But I haven't heard anything since.

"I don't know if that means they have definitely lost interest, but I think he's looking elsewhere."

Midlands sources were today speculating that Leicester, still financially strapped despite returning to the Premiership, were chasing experienced former England attacker Les Ferdinand.

Royle is aware of Stoke's interest in goalkeeper Andy Marshall, although they have yet to follow up with a firm enquiry for the ex-Norwich man.

Marshall can go on a free transfer, despite having 12 months of his contract still to run, but rival keeper Matteo Sereni will not be allowed to quit Portman Road for nothing.

Record signing Sereni is back after a season-long loan at Brescia, with his representatives trying to secure a free transfer for their client.

The man who cost £5 million from Sampdoria less than two years ago is eager to return to Serie A although there remains a chance, albeit a remote one, that he will start the new season with Ipswich.

Royle, who plans further talks with Sereni this week, said: "The best answer for all parties would be a deal. Matteo is desperate to continue his career in Italy and doesn't want to be here."

Apart from Brescia, former club Sampdoria and Champions League-bound Lazio have also declared an interest in Sereni.