Town's Royal bow

IPSWICH'S eagerly awaited start to the new season will be a right Royal occasion!And Town boss Joe Royle today said of Reading's visit to Portman Road on August 9: "It will be a stiff test.

By Mel Henderson

IPSWICH'S eagerly awaited start to the new season will be a right Royal occasion!

And Town boss Joe Royle today said of Reading's visit to Portman Road on August 9: "It will be a stiff test."

The Evening Star revealed the club's 2003-2004 fixture list to Royle as he entered the final week of his holiday in Majorca.

He said: "Reading were the surprise packet of the First Division last year. They were refreshing, bright and had a great season.

"It was just a pity for them that they ran out of gas in the play-offs, but they will be ready to give it another go this time.

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"Mind you, I know what the reaction in Reading will be to their start. They will also be thinking it could have been a lot easier!"

The corresponding fixture last year saw Town triumph 3-1, with Danish defender Thomas Gaardsoe giving them the perfect start with a first minute opener.

Nicky Forster levelled in the 16th minute but skipper Matt Holland netted just after the half-hour mark to give Ipswich a half-time lead.

Reading defender Adrian Viveash was red-carded in the 58th minute and Royle's team made the most of the numerical advantage, Jim Magilton completing the scoring 12 minutes later.

Town, at home on the opening day for the first time in four years, travel to newly-promoted pair Crewe and Wigan in successive away games during August.

Coventry are at Portman Road on August 23 and then title favourites West Ham, relegated from the Premiership last term, are the visitors one week later.

Royle added: "Every team in the division will be looking at the West Ham game. That's a big one for us all.

"We go to Upton Park on Boxing Day and I'm pleased about that. It will be good for our fans because there's nothing worse than a long away trip in the holiday season."

"But I will be more pleased for our supporters if we are winning games. That's what we all want."

The Football League have decided to scrap the traditional New Year's Day fixtures for the forthcoming season.

That means a gap of 13 days between Town's home game against Crystal Palace on Sunday, December 28, and the return fixture with Reading on January 10.

In between those games Ipswich will launch into their FA Cup campaign on the weekend of January 3 and 4.

Royle went on: "The fixtures are like a cup draw – you can't change them and just have to get on with it. I don't believe there is any great advantage to be had from playing certain teams at certain times.

"But there's great interest in them when they come out. I'm just like the fans – I want to know when we're playing Norwich, for example."

The answer is just before Christmas, with the Canaries due at Portman Road on December 20 and the return game at Carrow Road on March 6.

But all the fixtures are subject to change with Sky Sports' executives casting a careful eye over them before selecting the games to be broadcast live.

Royle will be back from his sunshine break next Wednesday – ready, as he put it, "to start winding up again after winding down."

He said: "I am confident about the new season. I hope we can take up where we left off, but also add a bit of defensive steel to our game.

"I see it being a hard division with a lot of teams capable of beating one another. Will it be an open division? I hope not!"

The bookmakers already see Town as one of the leading promotion candidates and the September schedule sees them take on relegated pair West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland, both away from home.

One intriguing aspect of the fixtures is that Ipswich tackle Derby County, now managed by ex-Town boss George Burley, twice inside four weeks.

The Pride Park game takes place on November 8, then Burley will be back at Portman Road on December 6, his first return since being axed in October last year.

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