Three is the magic number for Dean

BOY Wonder Dean Bowditch became the youngest Ipswich Town player to score a hat-trick when he helped Ipswich Town keep up their First Division promotion challenge at Portman Road today.

BOY Wonder Dean Bowditch became the youngest Ipswich Town player to score a hat-trick when he helped Ipswich Town keep up their First Division promotion challenge at Portman Road today.

The 17-year-old capitalised on two errors by Watford keeper Lenny Pidgeley – and also struck a splendidly taken second goal – as Town scored their first back-to-back victories since they beat Sheffield United and Cardiff in November.

Scott Fiztgerald pulled a goal back for Watford in first half stoppage time – the ninth time Town have conceded in time added-on this season – and for a while Town struggled.

But after Bowditch completed his hat-trick it was virtually all one-way traffic, with Jermaine Wright scoring a fourth in the 93rd minute to put Town up to fifth place prior to the start of the 3pm games.

Bowditch will not be 18 until June and he takes over from former England international Colin Viljeon as the youngest Town player to score three times in one game.

Viljeon, born in South Africa, was almost 19 when he scored a hat-trick on his Ipswich debut.

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Bowditch only made his full Ipswich league debut in the 3-1 victory at Walsall on Tuesday and he showed his delight by picking the ball out of the net following his hat-trick and giving it a kiss in front of adoring fans in the South Stand.

The Blues have bottom club Wimbledon to play next Saturday and three points will see them on 62. To confirm a play-off place they will then need around ten more from seven games, which is a perfectly feasible target.

It will have done Ipswich's cause no harm by putting on such a fine display in front of live television cameras for a match that kicked-off at noon.

They chalked up their third double of the season and, apart from a spell just before Fitzgerald pulled a goal back, the Blues were in control.

This was despite a strong wind, which made passing difficult. Pidgeley's mistake – reminiscent of Richard Wright's at Birmingham in a League Cup semi-final and by Bryan Gunn for Norwich in a derby match at Portman Road – gave Town a perfect start.

Predominantly a right-footed player the young keeper, who is on loan from Chelsea for the season and is keeping ex-Town custodian Alec Chamberlain on the bench, missed the ball completely with his left from Mahon's rolled back pass.

Full marks to Bowditch for chasing what could well have been a lost cause – and being on hand to tap in his first league goal to add to his winner against Kidderminster in the Carling Cup last August.

Bowditch's second goal was well manufactured and well taken, but his third was also a gift after Pidgeley and Jerel Ifil got into a muddle dealing with a long punt forward by Kelvin Davis that was held up in the wind a few inches outside the penalty area.Bowditch had another gaping goal to aim at and made no mistake.

Ipswich made one change from their 3-1 victory at Walsall with a fit-again John McGreal coming in at the back to partner Matt Elliott. It was Elliot's home debut after impressing at Walsall after a Sunday loan move from Leicester City.

Richard Naylor was forced into action at the Bescot Stadium despite having a fractured toe and a painful reaction meant that he was unfit for this game.

Drissa Diallo had recovered from a facial injury to take his place on the substitutes' bench, while striker Alun Armstrong was involved for the first time since he was a non-used substitute at Nottingham Forest on December 3.

The player, who has since been on loan to Bradford, last played at Sunderland on September 30. Shefki Kuqi was also on the bench against a side he scored against on his Town debut, with manager Joe Royle happy to keep his young strikers Bent and Bowditch in harness up front.

Watford began the match just five points ahead of the relegation zone and included Chris Baird, who was signed during the week from Southampton having played in last season's FA Cup final.

The visitors played with one player up front in Heidar Helguson and five spread across the midfield, with a swirling wind having an influence of proceedings from the first whistle.

Watford's plans to frustrate Ipswich were ruined when Bowditch scored in the fifth minute, although they still looked lively once Town took their foot off the pedal around the 35-minute mark.

Helguson could have scored a couple of times before Fitzgerald struck and the interval was rather a nervous time for Town fans who had forgone their normal Saturday lunch to witness their heroes make a winning statement.

They were there to see a new star being born, with Bowditch showing he has the talent to follow in the footsteps of other youngsters who have gone on from the Town youth ranks to become big international stars.

The Ipswich midfield buzzed around to good effect with Wright having one of his best matches for some while. The number 11 is often the barometer of the side and when he shines the team normally does well.

Tommy Miller has matured in recent weeks to become a key cog in the middle of the park and Chris Bart-Williams will not find an easy passage back into the Town side when fully fit after his current back injury. Jim Magilton was his industrious self, before making way for teenager Scott Mitchell who looked at home on the right of midfield in his second first team appearance.Matt Richards continued his improved form at left back, while Ian Westlake was lively down the left flank and caused Watford increasing concern. It was a champagne day for Bowditch, who was presented with the bubbly as official man of the match. Not old enough to drink alcohol he certainly served up a thrilling early afternoon cocktail.

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