Town slip up against Leeds

Leeds 1 Ipswich 1HOW do we sum up Ipswich Town's current position?It is a difficult one to fathom now that there is only one automatic promotion place remaining to the Premiership.

Leeds 1 Ipswich 1

HOW do we sum up Ipswich Town's current position?

It is a difficult one to fathom now that there is only one automatic promotion place remaining to the Premiership.

We should be pleased that the Blues managed to stay two points behind Wigan, which was the main aim before the 1-1 draw at Elland Road, Leeds on Saturday.


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But we should feel concerned and frustrated that the Blues did not take advantage of Wigan slipping up at home yet again.

With just one point from their last three home matches Wigan should have handed Town the final right to second spot by now.

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But Ipswich are currently huffing and puffing, and not in the form to suggest that they will gain maximum points from Crewe at home and Brighton away.

Just two points from their last three outings is not what is required.

Taking into account the huge strain that goes with putting the final touches to confirm a promotion that will bring enormous riches and benefits, Ipswich are still not looking the part.

Leeds were there for the taking, and provided perfect opposition for a side in Town's position.

They might not have yet got round to ordering their Euros for a month or so in the sun, but the Leeds players gave every indication that they had their summer holidays on their minds.

They had no one mixing it enough to get booked and managed one serious effort on goal - and that produced an equaliser less than 60 seconds after Shefki Kuqi had fortuitously given the visitors the lead.

Ipswich were unable to step up a gear that would surely have won them promotion if they had managed to return to Suffolk with three points.

Unlike their previous four away games they did manage to manufacture a few chances, but Leeds on this showing are not prone to battle in the Wigan, Cardiff, Gillingham or Wolverhampton mode.

Darren Currie has been left devastated at his awful miss just seconds from time, although Kuqi missed an opportunity almost as easy in the first half following a peach of a pass from Jim Magilton.

It was said before the start of this game that Ipswich needed to win their last three games. But with Wigan showing the nerves that saw them miss out on a play-off place in the last minute of the 2003/04 regular season, Town have been handed a further lifeline.

With the Blues' remaining two fixtures looking on paper to be less exacting than Paul Jewell's side there is still cause for optimism.

A defeat for Wigan in their lunchtime match at neighbours Preston will see Town go into second place if they see-off lowly Crewe by Saturday tea time.

But if not - and the play-offs beckon - then it is a further concern that Ipswich will not be in the right shape to take on the four-team lottery that will confront them.

If Wigan - who need four points to ensure Town cannot catch them - gain more points at Preston than Ipswich gain against Crewe this weekend, then it would be no surprise to see Joe Royle field a virtually unrecognisable side at Brighton on May 8.

Whatever Brighton's fellow relegation candidates might say, Royle would be justified in giving his regular first team a rest before re-grouping for the play-offs.

If put on the spot I would reluctantly forecast that it is the play-offs for Town after their failure to show enough St George's Day spirit to see off Leeds.

But I would love to be proved wrong, and Royle is experienced and canny enough to cap a magnificently successful campaign by lifting his players to a happy ending at the Withdean Stadium on the south coast.

It is ironic that the Tractor Boys should be involved in an increasingly desperate search for away goals as they are the Championship's top scorers.

Their latest move involved recalling Pablo Counago for his first start since Watford on October 23 and playing three up front.

The Spaniard did well enough until he tired and he twisted and turned to good effect and was at the heart of most of Ipswich's best moves.

His run-out will have improved his fitness levels and it remains to be seen whether he retains his place for the visit of Crewe.

Lewis Price had no chance with Matthew Spring's first goal of the season, but otherwise the 21-year-old had precious little to do against a side that had no penetration and precious little craft in midfield.

Kelvin Davis had left the team hotel in the middle of the night to be at the 9.45 am birth of his second child - a son called Sonnie.

It was the competent Price's first start since the home match with Sheffield United on November 2, with Shane Supple receiving a wonderful reception from Blues fans as he warmed up for his substitutes' role.

Supple had performed miracles with his fellow team mates as Ipswich ensured that 2004/05 would be a Red Letter season by claiming a dramatic late victory over Southampton in Friday's final of the FA Youth Cup.

It was all change for Town with Drissa Diallo back in the fold for the first time since the middle of December. The Guinea international played 28 minutes at right back after the ineffective David Unsworth was replaced.

Fabian Wilnis switched to left back to accommodate Diallo, with Ian Westlake - left out for the first time since he was suspended against Coventry on January 15 - replacing Kevin Horlock for the bulk of the second period.

Leeds' position was summed up by the fact they left out Seth Johnson so that they did not have to pay his previous club Derby £250,000 on reaching a set number of appearances.

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