Town may count cost

MAYBE we will not be recalling this rather tame affair for years to come, but it served a useful purpose as far as Ipswich's preparations for Saturday's big kick-off are concerned.

By Mel Henderson

MAYBE we will not be recalling this rather tame affair for years to come, but it served a useful purpose as far as Ipswich's preparations for Saturday's big kick-off are concerned.

Even if it was as uneventful as last week's clash with Newcastle was compelling, a third successive 2-1 home win has Town going into the season's opening clash with Gillingham in confident mood.

No one should read too much into this one, however, as it scored a maximum four out of ten for entertainment and, as manager Joe Royle was quick to concede afterwards, it was probably his team's least effective display of a busy warm-up programme.

There was little for Town to be excited about as Osasuna proved box office flops, attracting a meagre 4,817 spectators, the sort of attendance that probably meant the whole exercise was a costly failure.

As Royle emphasised later, his players needed a game, but had I paid £12 for the dubious privilege of

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witnessing this non-event I would have been far from amused.

Town imposed similar admission charges against Crystal Palace, another game that failed to pull in the punters, and should reconsider their pricing policy in future.

I appreciate under-16s were admitted for just £1, but had they reduced adult admission to, say, £5, I am sure the supporters would have responded accordingly to create a genuine match-day atmosphere.

The Dale Roberts Testimonial fixture against Newcastle was always going to attract the bigger crowd, so more thought maybe should have gone into promoting the other two games.

I am reliably informed, for example, that the club did not advertise the Osasuna fixture on their own official website until last Wednesday - hardly sufficient time in which to drum up interest.

From a marketing point of view, they may question the wisdom of arranging three home friendlies in quick succession, forcing regular fans to fork out a considerable amount of money on top of a significant sum to purchase their season tickets.

It would be nice to write an upbeat account of last night's action, but it was anything but an epic and Ipswich may even have to count the cost - and I'm not talking finances here - of staging a game in danger of giving a whole new meaning to the word mediocrity.

Hopefully, the injuries that necessitated new signings Kevin Horlock and Jason De Vos leaving the field of play, the former as early as the 27th minute, will not deny either player his official debut at the weekend.

Skipper Jim Magilton and young full-back Matt Richards were also absent last night and it was a somewhat anxious Royle who saw the casualty list mount.

Having said all that, of course, it takes two to tango and Osasuna were a stubborn outfit who, after initially looking the better side, found themselves trailing 2-0 inside the first half hour and then, as the final whistle approached, seemed determined to make their mark in a negative way.

Quite why they switched to what can only be described as anything-but-friendly mode is anyone's guess, but at least it seemed to awaken a crowd who appeared in danger of slipping off to sleep after the interval.

The Spaniards began to look like a particularly unruly bunch in an ill-tempered period when, instead of delivering meaningless lectures, referee Wright should have produced a yellow card.

If last week's panto villain was Craig Bellamy - supporters have been quick to claim their booing of the ex-Norwich man was merely good-natured banter - Savo Milosevic stepped into the role last night.

The former Aston Villa striker, nicknamed Missalotovic because of his wayward finishing when based in Birmingham, proved he is no more lethal now when presented with golden scoring opportunities.

Not content with giving us a demonstration of how not to convert chances, he then proceeded to dispute nearly every decision and would surely have been sent packing long before the end had it been a competitive fixture.

He was in good company, too, with a number of his new colleagues doing their best to provoke the officials. Simulation - diving to you and me - is bad enough, but several ugly challenges from behind should have been punished accordingly.

Town have shown tremendous promise during their preparations, but it must be said that but for Osasuna's profligate finishing and the agility of home keeper Kelvin Davis, last night's game would not have gone their way.

It was all rather disjointed towards the end, and it was just as well that the visitors' equaliser, simple in execution as Punal found Flano unmarked in the box to pick his spot, came too late to deny Ipswich victory.

On two memorable occasions, Davis produced stunning one-handed saves to deny long-range efforts from the lively Munoz and defender Cruchaga.

Munoz shot over as early as the third minute when he should have found the net from eight yards, enabling Ipswich to take a tenth minute lead.

A firm Drissa Diallo tackle, roundly applauded, let Dean Bowditch escape and his shot struck Pablo Counago on the backside.

Town's very own Spaniard reacted quickly and, by the time he had turned and steadied himself, it was a relatively easy task to put the ball to the keeper's right since he had already commenced his dive to his left.

Osasuna should have levelled when the unmarked Valdo met a cross from Munoz in the 17th minute, only to volley well over from close range.

Moha's free-kick from 25 yards whistled narrowly wide before Ipswich extended their lead with a goal from the entirely unpredictable Shefki Kuqi.

Both Counago and Bowditch featured in the build-up, the youngster stretching to reach the ball and poke it into the path of the Finland international.

As only Kuqi can, he neatly stepped inside his marker and then kicked the turf to send a divot flying into the air, although he didn't alter his stride before clipping a left-foot shot well beyond Sanzol.

Milosevic was guilty of a terrible miss five minutes before the break, screwing his shot wide of Davis' right-hand post having met the ball just a couple of yards out at the other upright after Kuqi

unwittingly teed him up by glancing a header from Ortiz's corner on the left right into his path.

A crunching tackle from behind by Flano on Counago six minutes after the break, and which would surely lead to instant dismissal if replicated in the forthcoming campaign, set the tone for a stop-start second period.

Town will be glad to have got this one out of the way, for a number of reasons, and can expect Gillingham to pose a new set of problems in four days' time.

From what I have seen of them in their three home friendlies, Ipswich look sufficiently well equipped to muster a sustained Championship challenge.

It would be difficult to nominate a better keeper at this level than Davis, while De Vos has undoubtedly reinforced last term's rather fragile defence.

I have reservations about Diallo at right-back, while his 30-minute performance last night did little to suggest that French trialist Pascal Nouma will become a permanent fixture up front.

There was plenty of endeavour in midfield, but Horlock's early departure, combined with the absence of Magilton, took its toll, although Scott Mitchell caught the eye when he replaced a typically enthusiastic Ian Westlake, whose commitment led to a couple of scuffles with opponents less than impressed with his wholeheartedness.

Ipswich: Davis, Diallo, De Vos (Barron 80), Naylor, Wilnis, Miller, Horlock (Murray 27), Westlake (Mitchell 71), Kuqi (Bent 46), Counago (Nouma 59), Bowditch. Unused sub: Price.

Osasuna: Sanzol (Elia 46), Izquierdo (Exposito 62), Cruchaga, Josetxo (Flano 46), Clavero, Ortiz (David Lopez 62), Punal, Munoz (Sota 83), Moha (Seguro 83), Milosevic, Valdo (Webo 62). Unused subs: Moreno, Corrales.

Referee: K Wright.