Royle: Heads we win

IPSWICH Town are heading in the right direction.If the Blues beat Millwall at Portman Road on Sunday in a televised Coca-Cola Championship match (kick-off 1pm) it will make it their best start in the league for 16 years.

By Elvin King

IPSWICH Town are heading in the right direction.

If the Blues beat Millwall at Portman Road on Sunday in a televised Coca-Cola Championship match (kick-off 1pm) it will make it their best start in the league for 16 years.

And manager Joe Royle today insisted that much of the credit must go to the aerial ability of key defenders Jason De Vos and Drissa Diallo.

“We were just not getting our heads to the ball in the box last season when our defensive record was one of the worst in the division,” said Royle. “Jason De Vos was our number one target to put this right.

“He has done everything that we expected from him. Apart from the Derby game, we have defended well right through pre-season to the current time.”

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De Vos still has swelling around his knee and he had extensive treatment yesterday.

“Jason needed to train today to have a chance of playing on Sunday, and we are hopeful he will be fit,” said Royle.

The manager admits that playing Guinea international Diallo at right back was an initially an experiment. “Fabian Wilnis was injured and Drissa has taken his chance,” added Royle.

“He is quick, good with one-on-ones and is also outstanding in the air. It is a plus to have someone at the far post who can head balls clear.”

Royle also brought the contribution of summer signing Kevin Horlock into the defensive equation. Last season Ipswich leaked a massive 72 goals with only Wimbledon and Burnley conceding more in the old First Division.

“The fans have taken to Kevin, who just gets on with his job,” said Royle. “He is a defensive minded midfielder and he has played his part in our improved defensive situation.

“To be honest, Kevin was not on our shopping list, but when his agent made contact and said that he was available from West Ham I immediately made inquiries to see if we could afford the package.

“The board backed me and it is nice when it comes off. Like Jason, Kevin has made a big impact.

“We will always score goals with the players we have and tightening up our defence was our number one summer priority.”

Royle is not getting carried away by the good start to the season, with four consecutive victories and a 100 per cent home record.

“We are pleased, of course we are, but we have 40 league games to go,” he said. “This time last year we were at the foot of the table and the knives were out. We are in much better shape now.”

Royle is likely to name an unchanged side if De Vos and Tommy Miller are both fit. Miller has an ankle injury and this is still swollen.

The leading scorer also had extensive treatment yesterday, and Royle was hoping he could train today. Miller, like De Vos, is confident he will be able to continue his unbroken run in the league side this campaign.

Matt Richards has now recovered from his foot injury and will be included in the squad, although Wilnis is expected to keep the left back slot.

Darren Bent and Ian Westlake are back from the England Under-21 trip to Austria and Poland, with the former set to continue his partnership with Shefki Kuqi up front.

The 13 points the Blues have picked up this season is their best tally since 1999. A win on Sunday will see them pick up 16 points, something they have not managed since 1988, when they collected 17 points from their opening seven matches.

John Duncan's side beat Sunderland, Leicester City, Watford, Shrewsbury and West Brom, while drawing with Stoke and Bradford, in the old Division Two, in the days before the Premiership.

Ipswich have gone 29 league games since a nil-nil and that was against Millwall last December.

Town are among the leading shooters this season with 52 efforts on target, beaten only by Wigan in the Championship (57).

Ipswich have hit the woodwork three times, with only Nottingham Forest beating them with four shots rebounding from the frame.