Shef special hands win on a plate

Rotherham 0 Ipswich 2WHETHER Darren Bent is still an Ipswich player or not by the time the transfer window closes on the Barclays Premiership tomorrow night, Town fans should not feel downhearted.

Rotherham 0 Ipswich 2

WHETHER Darren Bent is still an Ipswich player or not by the time the transfer window closes on the Barclays Premiership tomorrow night, Town fans should not feel downhearted.

Yes, it would be a loss to wave goodbye to a 20-year-old striker with a special talent who has been brought up with all the right habits by the Ipswich Town academy.

But if the player wants to go - and the price is right - then selling is a sensible option and every reason to believe that the Blues' promising start to the season will continue unabated.

Manager Joe Royle will have £3million plus to spend on replacements and build his squad up to a level that can last the marathon course that is the Coca-Cola Championship.

Ipswich's financial position is such that they no longer have to 'give' players away to stay solvent.

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But the coffers are not full enough to turn down any sensible offer for one player - however talented - in the knowledge that there would then be two or three quality additions to a squad that is currently on the very lean side.

Ipswich's prospects have improved considerably over the last fortnight. In their 3-2 defeat at Derby County they looked more likely to fight a relegation battle than for a place in the top flight.

But three consecutive victories, and more importantly the first back-to-back clean sheets since Royle arrived, have perked up things decidedly.

Two rows of seats were crammed full with scouts at Millmoor on Saturday when Shefki Kuqi had one of those days that confirm his right to play at this level.

To be honest, there are other days when he looks more suited to a Sunday morning park game.

But there is no doubting his desire and enthusiasm, and Royle would provide a masterstroke if he could induce the same feelings into Spanish striker Pablo Counago, who is currently out of sorts.

A move up in gear for Counago will be particularly well timed if Bent is to leave. Bent had a busy game on Saturday, showing that he is capable of a Premiership future without setting the world alight.

A top Liverpool scout was among the throng taking notes to the right of the press box, and no doubt when Dean Bowditch replaced Bent in the 70th minute there was no drop in interest.

Bowditch is also being linked with a possible move, but the 18-year-old is one that Town will certainly hang on to, although if they do slip out of the promotion race when the window re-opens in January it might be a different matter.

On the evidence of the last week this is unlikely to happen, and the Blues have every chance of making an impact on a division that at this stage does not appear to possess any runaway contenders.

They did begin slowly on Saturday when their footballing style benefited from an early season visit to Millmoor with grass still lush and level.

Kelvin Davis rushed out of goal to make one good block in the sixth minute, but Rotherham, with no league wins yet, soon ran out of steam.

It still needed a goal out of the blue by Kuqi, when he volleyed home spectacularly in the 43rd minute, to raise Ipswich's game.

But once Jim Magilton and Bent had combined to present Kuqi with a second goal soon after the interval there was only one team in it.

Ipswich knocked the ball around with increasing confidence and could easily have won by two or three more goals.

Ipswich's goalscoring credentials have been there for all to see for the last two years - and will carry on with or without Bent - so it was particularly pleasing to see a well marshalled an effective back four in operation.

Richard Naylor was the man who held it together in the first 30 minutes with a series of good stops and key defensive work. Town's longest-serving playing is playing the best football of his career.

Jason de Vos was not quite so commanding, but he is a hard man on the field and played his part and hopefully has now played through the painful deep bone bruising in his leg.

Ipswich's full backs also impressed. Drissa Diallo has limitations going forward but he defended soundly at right back, and the experience of Fabian Wilnis is currently serving Town better at left back than young Matt Richards, who looked ready for a rest when struggling in his last game at Derby.

Magilton's return added fluency to the midfield and he showed that he can work effectively with another key player Kevin Horlock, who dropped a little deeper.

Tommy Miller became more influential as the game wore on, while Ian Westlake was not at his best but still effective enough.

A win against Wolverhampton at Portman Road today could put Ipswich on top of the table. Everyone stressed before a ball was kicked in earnest the importance of getting off to a good start.

This has been achieved despite under par performances in the first two away games at Nottingham Forest and Derby.

Tony Dinning, a late substitute on Saturday, has quickly summed up the mood three weeks into his two-month loan from Wigan Athletic.

He said at the weekend that if Ipswich enjoy a similar run-in from October to May as they did last season - and 2003-04 brought plenty of down moments even after that dreadful start to the campaign - then automatic promotion would be obtained.

Sounds easy doesn't it?

But there is a huge amount of work still to do. With or without Bent the signs are encouraging.

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