Super subs spare Blue blushes

THERE is no substitute for making the right decisions.And so it proved last night when Ipswich Town manager Joe Royle again had the Midas touch.His treble chance substitutions paid off when Richard Naylor headed a precious equaliser six minutes from the end at Molineux.

By Elvin King

THERE is no substitute for making the right decisions.

And so it proved last night when Ipswich Town manager Joe Royle again had the Midas touch.

His treble chance substitutions paid off when Richard Naylor headed a precious equaliser six minutes from the end at Molineux.

Naylor had come on three minutes earlier and he stretched his neck muscles to direct Martijn Reuser's free kick well out of the reach of keeper Matt Murray.

And it was the third substitute, Dean Bowditch, who had won the free kick when fouled by Joleon Lescott.

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Royle supplied the same magic at Carrow Road on Sunday when he introduced Bowditch in the 70 minute and the 16-year-old had a hand in both goals in the 2-0 victory over Norwich City.

Ipswich needed Naylor's goal – his second of the season – to keep in touch with Wolverhampton, the side in the top six who the Blues appear to have the biggest chance of catching.

Paul Ince had given the home team the lead three minutes after the interval when he thumped in a pass from Denis Irwin.

Ince, who spent part of his childhood with relations in Ipswich, had an influential game in midfield with Ipswich passing the ball well for most of the game, but possessing precious little threat in front of goal.

Murray did not have his first save until Matt Holland tested him with a long-range shot on the hour, although Wolves

themselves did not look capable of hitting the net until Ince pounced.

Naylor has had few chances in the first team this season with Royle preferring to see him at the back rather than in attack, but he certainly came up trumps and showed that he still had a knack for placing the ball into the goal.

Whether the point will be enough at the end of the season to see Town reach the play-offs remains to be seen, but it was hard-earned in a game where the visitors found much tougher opposition than at Norwich.

The two Darrens in attack, Bent and Ambrose, were unable to find the space that saw them cause havoc at Carrow Road and consequently Ipswich's moves were breaking down before they reached the 18-yard box.

Ambrose was obviously not fit after the heavy blow he took on his knee in the early stages of the Canaries game and quite often his control let him down against a Wolves outfit who were seeking a quick-fire double after beating Ipswich at Portman Road a fortnight ago.

During the first period, Wolves fans became frustrated as Ipswich knocked the ball about with style, at one time combining more than 20 passes in one move.

However, Darren Bent, scorer of ten goals in his previous nine games, did not have a serious shot on target while Kenny Miller, the Wolves player who is also hitting the goal trail at the moment, was far more lively.

On more than one occasion he threatened to cause trouble to the Town defence and when he was held back by Thomas Gaardsoe, it looked ominous for Ipswich's hopes of gaining any reward from this game.

A free kick looked obvious, and a red card looked a distinct possibility for the Dane, but the referee waved play on indicating that there had been no foul.

Ipswich certainly appeared to be lucky on this occasion as Gaardsoe clearly pulled Miller's shirt as the number 16 was about to burst clear and make ground towards Andy Marshall's goal.

Otherwise Ipswich coped well with their back three the most impressive on the night.

Matt Holland had his usual inspirational game as Royle was able to field an unchanged side and keep to his favoured 3-5-2 formation.

Gaardsoe reigned supreme in the middle of the defence, winning his percentage of high balls and passing the ball out of defence with assurance, while Chris Makin was at his most gritty best and was in no mood to be second best against a side that possessed a number of quick and lively forwards.

Both wing-backs, Fabian Wilnis and Matt Richards, were able to play despite injury scares and both put in a tremendous amount of work.

Wilnis was not at his very best, but he still achieved much down the right flank while Richards will surely be kept in Royle's thoughts even though left-sided Hermann Hreidarsson is available again on Saturday against Stoke City at home following his four match suspension.

Jim Magilton was left out at the interval as the manager wanted to put on a striker to improve the chances of a goal.

The Northern Ireland international knocked the ball about in his usual style and he was possibly missed when Ince scored.

No midfield player tracked back with the goalscorer and when a pass came in from Irwin, Ince was unmarked before comfortably beating Marshall.

Bowditch played up front with Bent with Ambrose dropping just behind those two leaving Jermaine Wright and Tommy Miller the majority of the work in midfield.

They both had mixed matches with a dose of good first-time passes and some unforced errors that gave the home team a chance to build their attacks.

Wolverhampton were long time favourites for promotion last season before slipping out of the top two and then losing to Norwich in the play-off semi-final.

Whether they stay in the top six will depend on how well they perform between now and the end of the season with Ipswich knowing that wins are imperative if they are to play catch-up and move two places in the table.

Royle was urging his men forward in the final stages after Naylor's goal, knowing full well the vital difference between one point and three.

And a winner almost came in the final seconds when Reuser sent in a low free kick following another foul on Bowditch. Murray saw the ball late and made a good save to his right, but the ball evaded his grasp.

It loitered around the six yard box for what seemed like an age but no blue shirted player was able to make a

contribution before it was hacked clear and the final whistle went.

A point thanks to the introduction and combined work of the three substitutes keeps Town in the hunt on a night when perhaps the emotion and the effort put in during the local derby victory took its toll on the visiting team.

There are plenty of games left and with Stoke City to come at home and then Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday away next week, Royle has certainly got his squad in the right frame of mind and once they get back to full strength the season could end on a high note.