Town and Palace to come through - Joe

IPSWICH boss Joe Royle expects Boxing Day opponents Crystal Palace to emerge as play-off contenders this season - along with his own team.Town go into the Portman Road showdown - kick-off 3pm - knowing that victory will take them level with the Londoners on 32 points.

By Mel Henderson

IPSWICH boss Joe Royle expects Boxing Day opponents Crystal Palace to emerge as play-off contenders this season - along with his own team.

Town go into the Portman Road showdown - kick-off 3pm - knowing that victory will take them level with the Londoners on 32 points.

And Royle admitted: “I would be quite happy to be going into the remainder of the season with the same tally as Palace. I still think they have a long run in them.


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“We all remember how they did it two years ago to climb the table and eventually win promotion to the Premiership.

“I think we have a run in us as well. I can see improvement in us from one day to the next in training - now we are looking for it from one game to the next.”

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Unlike his Ipswich counterpart, Palace boss Iain Dowie has a number of attacking options and will have been cheered by chairman Simon Jordan's decision to reject West Ham's £5.5 million offer for England international Andrew Johnson.

But Jordan's insistence that the World Cup hopeful will be staying put during next month's transfer window also adds to the pressure on Dowie to recapture the club's Premiership status.

Royle said: “They have a wealth of forwards at Selhurst Park - apart from Johnson there's Clinton Morrison, Dougie Freedman and Jon Macken, who is fit again.

“They are probably the envy of most clubs in this division. There are very few who can boast firepower like that at our level.”

Royle has a point, emphasised by the fact that, while Sam Parkin is sidelined with a broken ankle, Nicky Forster is the only experienced striker currently available to him.

The two Deans - Bowditch and McDonald - are still in their teens and while neither has scored this season they are not regarded as out-and-out front players.

Danny Haynes is not 18 until next month and another youngster, Billy Clarke, is out for at least another month after dislocating his elbow in a reserve game.

McDonald is back after a month's loan at Hartlepool, during which he scored once in six appearances, and, invigorated by the experience, he is desperate for another opportunity to show what he can do.

Experienced midfielder Kevin Horlock also returns to the squad after a knee injury kept him out against both QPR and Sheffield Wednesday, although the Palace game may be too early for him to figure from the start.

Forster's third goal of the season earned all three points at Hillsborough last weekend and provided a huge lift for everyone at Portman Road.

Ipswich went into that one with only one win in their previous 11 outings - now they would no doubt prefer to take a more positive view and point to the fact that they have lost just four of their last 13.

If Town and Palace have one thing in common it is that neither has been able to display the sort of consistency required to book a play-off place.

But Royle is convinced that both sides are capable of finding their form over the next few months and believes they could well be reunited in the end-of-season knockout phase.

He added: “If anything, I think the Palace fans will be even more disappointed with their team's current position than our supporters are with where we find ourselves at the moment.

“They came down last season and were tipped to go straight back up. But none of the relegated sides are in the leading pack, although that could still change with so many games left to play.”

Palace are seeking to avoid a third away defeat on the trot, having been beaten 2-0 at Luton and Plymouth in recent weeks.

They are actually without a win in their last five outings after drawing 1-1 in successive home games against Millwall and Wolves, and going out of the Carling Cup at Middlesbrough.

But they do have two games in hand on a number of their rivals as they attempt to close the three-point gap between them and the play-off places.

Royle said: “Our report on Palace at Plymouth last week said they dominated for 88 minutes of the game - except for the first and last when they conceded goals.

“There is still time for them and others to come good. It might well be the case that teams make the play-offs this season with fewer points than ever before.

“With the top two, Reading and Sheffield United, gathering so many points, it means fewer points for the rest of us.”

SQUADS

IPSWICH: Price, Sito, Naylor, De Vos, Wilnis, Williams, Magilton, Juan, Garvan, Richards, Horlock, Currie, Westlake, Forster, Haynes, Bowditch, McDonald and Supple.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Boyce, Hall, Ward, Popovic, Soares, Hughes, Watson, Leigertwood, Morrison, Johnson, Freedman, Reich, Macken, McAnuff, Hudson, Andrews and Kiraly.

Referee: Andy Woolmer (Kettering).

Town will play their FA Youth Cup fourth round tie against Liverpool at Anfield on Thursday, January 19, kick-off 7pm.

The reserve fixture between Arsenal and Ipswich, which was due to be played at Barnet on January 9, has been postponed. A new date has yet to be fixed.

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