Two-goal Town continue promotion push

Ipswich Town 2, Preston 0SECOND half goals by Tommy Miller and Ian Westlake gave Ipswich Town's promotion hopes a timely boost at Portman Road this afternoon.

Ipswich Town 2, Preston 0

SECOND half goals by Tommy Miller and Ian Westlake gave Ipswich Town's promotion hopes a timely boost at Portman Road this afternoon.

The Blues needed to work hard to break down a resolute Preston side and Calvin Davis had to make a fine save from a 61st minute effort by Richard Creswell.

Otherwise Town were in control at the back on a day when they kept a welcome and rare clean sheet.

Once Miller showed his finishing instincts to turn in a drive by Westlake in the 71st minute it was virtually all over, with Westlake adding a second with an accurate finish in the first minute of stoppage time.

Westlake did well during the second period when Richard Naylor came on to replace Pablo Counago as Darren Bent's partner up front.

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Town now play Stoke on Tuesday and they will be in good heart with next Sunday seeing the East Anglian Derby at Carrow Road, Norwich.

Manager Joe Royle made three changes from the side beaten 4-2 at Burnley last week with Richard Naylor dropped to the bench after 10 consecutive starts.

In his place came Georges Santos who was making only his second start since the Crystal Palace home defeat at the end of last year.

The French defender played one half of the draw at Coventry on January 31. Drissa Diallo was also left out while striker Shefki Kuqi was serving a one match suspension. Matt Richards returned for the former, while leading scorer Pablo Counago took Kuqi's place up front beside Darren Bent.

Chris Bart-Williams was fit enough to be named as a substitute after struggling with a back injury for sometime.

Ipswich began in good heart after their four day sunshine break in Tenerife earlier in the week. Preston had not scored at Portman Road in their last four visits, but victory for them today would see them move just one point behind Ipswich and with a game in hand.

The teams drew 1-1 at Deepdale earlier in the season with Counago scoring the Ipswich goal from the penalty spot.

With the Norwich game at Sunderland postponed because of snow the Blues had a chance to move three points closer to the league leaders.

The pitch looked in perfect condition with no sign of the weekend snow that had been forecast. Town kicked towards the South Stand in the first period with Santos, wearing gloves, slotting in beside John McGreal at the heart of the home defence.

Fabian Wilnis who had to go off prematurely last week after a recurrence of a shoulder problem was fit enough to retain his right back berth.

Preston played with a 3-5-2 formation while Ipswich were in their traditional 4-4-2 line-up.

In the second minute noise levels were raised when skipper Jim Magilton forced his way beyond Jackson and had a clear sight of goal from one inside the penalty area.

He was being tackled as he shot and his effort went over the bar. Tommy Miller was playing in the anchor role just in front of the back four and spraying passes forward at every opportunity.

There was no early pattern to the game although Fuller made two menacing runs to be stopped first by McGreal and secondly by a well timed tackle from Santos.

Santos looked competent having taken over from Naylor who was no doubt blamed for his part when Town conceded poor goals in their defeat at Burnley.

In the 13th minute Bent was fouled five yards outside the area and it was Matt Richards who was given the responsibility of taking the free-kick. His left foot effort had Gould leaping across his goal to push away for a corner kick.

Two minutes later Lewis had his name taken for a tackle on Wilnis that unceremoniously dumped the Town man to the ground.

Counago in trying to build and attack lost out to Jackson and Fuller was able to make ground down the left channel unattended.

He bore down on goal, but before he could unleash a shot McGreal had arrived to put in a superb and perfectly timed tackle that ended the danger.

Preston were busy in midfield and giving Town no time to settle on the ball. The early stages had been evenly contested with neither goalkeeper having anything to do apart from the Gould tip over from the Richards' free-kick.

Fabian Wilnis had a couple of long range efforts that both went well wide as Ipswich searched for openings. They began the match in fifth place and if they were to have any serious chance of automatic promotion a win today was probably essential.

Magilton ran well to win a corner off Burley but his dead ball kick failed to be met by a team mate despite it landing in heart of the Preston penalty area.

After 29 minute there was a bizarre incident when referee Hill lifted a yellow card twice to McGreal. The first an immediate reaction to Cresswell crashing to the ground following a tackle by the Town number four.

McGreal then confronted Cresswell and they were nose to nose until Miller pushed the Preston player away. The match official called McGreal over and wrote his name in his book before raising another yellow card presumably this was a left over from the first as no red followed.

Cresswell was also admonished by Mr Hill before the game continued.

It was McGreal's first booking of the season and seconds later he was heading over a Magilton corner although off balanced.

Counago was busy up front but was losing possession more often then not as he tried to wriggle beyond his markers.

The game had not yet really warmed up although there was no lack of effort from either side with the importance of the occasion evident in the way that the Ipswich players were going about their job.

Preston were a mix of good and bad with some potentially dangerous attacks being followed by unforced errors giving the ball back to their blue shirted opponents.

In the 39th minute Ipswich took some time deliberating over a free-kick and when Magilton touched the ball to his right Darren Bent shot from 25 yards and cleared the bar. Kuqi height was being missed in attack and try as they might the Blues has yet to reach the by-line and manufacture any clear cut chances.

Ipswich won their sixth corner – against Preston's nil in the 42nd minute and this almost led to a goal. The ball was not cleared and when Counago showed tenacity with a strong run across the box McGreal had the chance to shoot first time from 18 yards.

His effort looked destined for the net until Gould flung himself to his left to make a notable save.

A goal would have been ideal for Ipswich at this stage, but they were soon battling away in defence again with Cresswell – now being booed every time he had possession – crossing directly into the arms of Davis.

Wilnis went forward soon after the restart and his effort went right through to Gould with Ipswich needing to step up a gear if they were to take control of the game. Preston were solid at the back and their no nonsense approach ensured that Ipswich had little time to dwell on the ball.

Davis however, was still untroubled and had yet to make a save, while the feelings were that Naylor would soon be introduced to play in a forward role.

In the 51st minute Davis' long punt forward was back headed by Counago and Bent ran through. Could he outpace the visiting defence? He tried, but an alert C Davis was back to clear for a corner.

Noise levels increased from the stands in an attempt to raise the Blues and when Counago and Magilton combined to weave their way into the penalty area, Miller's low cross from the by-line was blocked for yet another corner.

Town had raised the tempo and when Miller tried an ambitious shot from 20 yards it took a deflection and went – yes – for yet another corner.

In the 54th minute Naylor's number 12 was raised in the technical area and he came on to replace Counago. At the same time Preston made a change as well bringing on Healy for Lewis.

Naylor took over up front and was immediately fouled when he challenged for a high ball. Magilton curled in the resultant free-kick with Gould diving to his right to save by the post.

Naylor had added some devil to proceedings and Bent was soon running onto his header. The number 18 tried to find Naylor with his cross but this was well cut out by Preston captain Lucketti. After 61 minutes Davis made a tremendous save after Cresswell had managed to make contact to a cross from the left. The ball was destined for the bottom right hand corner until Davis' right hand intervened to turn away.

It was a vital moment and Davis showed his alertness after having a previously rather quiet afternoon.

Healy was playing up front after coming on and following an intricate move by Preston he reached the by-line and Davis had to stretch high to catch the centre at the near post.

Miller was the Town hero when he scored his eighth goal of the season in the 71st minute. The goal followed a right wing corner – Ipswich's 11th of the match – that had been won by Bent.

Santo challenged with C Davis for the cross and when the ball went over their heads Westlake tried a left foot effort from the edge of the box. The shot was low and went through the leg of C Davis and straight towards Miller, who knew exactly what he was doing with a deft first time touch into the centre of the goal.

Ipswich would be happy if the match ended with this scoreline as Preston had proved difficult to break down with Ipswich although not at their very best deserving to be ahead.

Preston brought on Keane to replace McKenna almost immediately and in the 74th minute Bent stretched his legs down the left side as Town's confidence grew. He cross was inch perfect but Naylor was unable to make any contact from right in front of goal.

Bent received a congratulatory tap on the head from skipper Magilton for his part in the move.

Preston won their second corner of the game following a deflection off the busy Westlake and then Santo needed to show his strength and height at the far post to put off Lucketti following a deep cross by Healy.

After 77 minutes Ipswich replaced Magilton with Bart-Williams, no doubt with Tuesday's match at Stoke in mind, while Preston brought on Lynch for Mears.

With 11 minutes left Ipswich broke following Preston's third corner and Wilnis placed the ball neatly in front of Bent who was still in his own half.

C Davis, who was Preston's best player along with Fuller, chased back well and managed to get in a tackle so that the ball ran harmlessly through to Gould.

In the 84th minute Fuller went past Richards easily and ran towards goal with two Town defenders rushing to their left to make contact.

The number nine still managed to get in a powerful shot but this went into the side netting.

Ipswich were knocking the ball about well and first Westlake headed over following a centre by Miller and then Westlake made ground down the left with his pass easily cut out with two blue shirted team mates waiting in the middle.

Ipswich were maintaining possession as the fourth official showed that there was to be three minutes or stoppage time and they made their game safe before the first of these had expired. Miller made ground down the right and found Wilnis.

The raiding fullback passed inside to Westlake and the youngster continued his scoring run when he netted into the far corner with a left foot shot. Gould could only stand and watch.

It was Westlake's sixth goal of the season.

The game was now won with Ipswich having worn down their competitive opponents and then scored two well-taken goals to achieve a victory that they deserved.

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