Shef's cooking - and he wants to stay

WATFORD 1 IPSWICH TOWN 2SHEFKI Kuqi made it clear he sees his long-term future with Ipswich Town after scoring on his debut and burning his bridges with former club Sheffield Wednesday.

By Derek Davis


SHEFKI Kuqi made it clear he sees his long-term future with Ipswich Town after scoring on his debut and burning his bridges with former club Sheffield Wednesday.

The Finnish striker, who cost the Owls £1m from Stockport County, became available after falling out with the Wednesday management and made an instant impression on his three-month loan stint to Ipswich – which he wants to make permanent.

As debuts go, it was not too bad a 45 minutes for Kuqi, who scored within seven minutes of his arrival against Watford.

Thrown on along with Pablo Counago to join Darren Bent up front, he had watched a dire first half in horror before going on at half time. He had not touched the ball before they went a goal down to Scott Fitzgerald.

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But six minutes later he made his mark, getting on the end of a brilliant pass from Jim Magilton, who hit a 30-yard ball with the outside of his right foot to land in Kuqi's path. The Finn connected with a first-time right-foot shot past the committed Alec Chamberlain.

Kuqi said: "First of all it was great to get the result we wanted and then for me to score on my first game was terrific. It was not a good first half but we had to forget that and things had changed.

"The goal came as a shock when a player mis-hit the shot, but it fell for one of their lads, and he got it in somehow. It was one of those goals. So it was up to us then to get back in the game.

"We played great football in the second half and deserved to win."

The Kosovan-born player first arrived in England when Wolves invited him for a trial after he had performed so well in Finland with Jokerit and HJK.

But the six-month contract offered did not appeal so he joined Stockport County in a £250,000 move in January 2001. His goals helped County stay in Division One but when Andy Kilner was sacked as manager, new boss Carlton Palmer cashed in by selling him to the Owls.

Although he had scored five goals in eight games at Hillsborough it was mutually beneficial for the striker to leave on loan, even though he was worth transfer money just a few months ago.

The 26-year-old has made it clear he does not want to go back and already sees a future with his old Wednesday coach Willie Donachie and Joe Royle.

He said: "I have played for two poor teams in Sheffield Wednesday and Stockport County and now I'm pleased to be with a club which plays good football.

"It will be good to be with a team like Ipswich to be in the First Division and near the top rather than teams near the bottom."

After signing on Friday, Kuqi did not meet his new team-mates until Saturday lunchtime.

But he swiftly saw enough of Pablo Counago and Darren Bent to be impressed.

He added: "They are great players. It is easy to play with forwards like that who are so clever and can hold the ball, turn and give. They give you so many more options."

A quick, strong attacker, Kuqi is used to a three-man attack but enjoys being up front on his own.

He said: "You have to work for the team but I'm a striker and I don't really want to anything else except stay in the box. I will work hard and do my best to stay in the team."

Although born in Kosovo, the refugee is now a naturalised Finn after emigrating as a child. He made his international debut for Finland against Belgium in 1999.

He has scored three goals in 33 appearances, mainly as a substitute, and expects to play for his country next month in a friendly against Canada. Finland failed to qualify for Euro 2004 in Portugal after trailing behind Italy and Wales in their group.