Where there's a Willo

SADLY for Ipswich Town an automatic promotion route back to the Premiership already appears to be beyond them.Sheffield United and Reading have gained too much ground at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship, and unless they drastically lose their current fizz they look destined for the top two places.

By Elvin King

SADLY for Ipswich Town an automatic promotion route back to the Premiership already appears to be beyond them.

Sheffield United and Reading have gained too much ground at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship, and unless they drastically lose their current fizz they look destined for the top two places.

Town have a chance to make some in-roads into the runaway leaders when they entertain Reading at Portman Road tomorrow night.

But with Christmas still five weeks away and more than half the 2005/06 season to complete the best Joe Royle's side can hope for appears to be a top six play-off place.

This is what the manager has predicted all along. But we know only too well the pit-falls involved in crossing that particular minefield.

Most Read

But there is cause for some optimism right now.

Since a truly dreadful display against Watford on October 22, Town have remained unbeaten - and they extended that run to four matches at the impressive new Ricoh Arena on Saturday.

There was purpose about Ipswich's play at Coventry, with a steadiness about the back four and plenty of energy and enterprise in midfield.

This offers more encouragement about the immediate future than the not outstanding displays that led to wins at Millwall and Leeds United.

There are enough clubs around with a strong case of making the top six to concern an Ipswich side still situated in the lower half of the table.

The three relegated clubs cannot be discounted - and that includes Norwich - while the likes of Leeds, Wolverhampton and Watford are also capable of finishing above Ipswich.

But just four points below the play-offs places at this stage of the season - and now on the front foot after their roller coaster start - is not the worst place to be.

Coventry have not beaten Town since a 2-0 success in the Premiership on October 10 1994, and they only once looked capable of ending their sequence run of results.

This was after Gary McSheffrey equalised Gavin Williams' 50th minute goal within six minutes.

For a few minutes the Sky Blues gained the upper hand, and roared on by their fans at a stadium that generates a great atmosphere with the help of brilliant acoustics they were a danger.

But otherwise Town generally held the upper hand although there was little to separate the sides in the opening period with Stephen Hughes striking the post for the home side.

The final 20 minutes were certainly all Ipswich with home supporters forced into silence and hoping against hope that their heroes could escape with a point.

And they did mainly because the Blues could not find a cutting edge. Apart from conceding a soft goal, the inability to turn possession into goals was the down side of an encouraging afternoon.

Ball after ball was played into the box, with Coventry's attempts to break free in the final quarter only getting as far as the half-way line.

Hungarian Under-21 international keeper Marton Fulop looked capable enough but he was not called upon to excel himself unduly.

He got his hands to Williams' shot but the effort had enough power to enter the net, as the Welsh international became the second player this campaign to score on his Town debut. The other was Nicky Forster in the opening day of the season against Cardiff City.

Royle knew what he was getting with Williams, a player he has sought for some time.

The West Ham loanee is a livewire, who eats up the ground in midfield and can also get on the end of things in the danger areas.

Eight players are now competing for places in the middle of the park, and this is another reason to be cheerful after early autumn days when the midfield picked itself and young untried kids filled the bench.

Kevin Horlock (suspended) and Owen Garvan (injured) were both missing on Saturday, but Royle still had tricky decisions to make with his horses for courses policy leading to Darren Currie and Matt Richards being left out - the latter after two goals in the previous two matches.

The manager's selection of Jimmy Juan was testament to the way the 22-year-old Frenchman has adapted to life in English football once he found the pace of the game.

And the Monaco loanee did not let his boss down, rarely losing the ball and gelling well with the rest of his team.

Not all loan players work out - James Scowcroft comes to mind - but Royle has spotted a winner in Juan, and with Richards impressing when he came on for a tiring Ian Westlake at the interval Town's engine room now looks equipped to stoke up a run of good results.

Sito is another good signing. The Spaniard was up and down the field showing excellent defensive talents one minute and intelligent forward virtues the next.

Add one of the soundest and cohesive displays of the season by centre backs Jason De Vos and Richard Naylor, and it only added to the disappointment when McSheffrey managed to squeeze a 20-yard left-foot show low into the corner of the goal.

This stemmed from skipper Jim Magilton trying to play football despite facing his own goal. The ball was knocked from him, and the sharp McSheffrey pounced.

A word about referee Graham Salisbury. He was unobtrusive, firm and fair and appeared to be enjoying himself. It might not have been the most difficult match to control, but he could not be faulted.

Town have a chance to confirm their growing status against Reading tomorrow - and perhaps the play-offs may prove fruitful next year!

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter