Boys take their chances

SCOTT Mitchell went on almost unnoticed to make his home debut for Ipswich.Not surprisingly, even though he was not far away with a 25-yard curling drive, the 18-year-old did not make the same impact as Dean Bowditch, who banged in a hat-trick on his first home start.

SCOTT Mitchell went on almost unnoticed to make his home debut for Ipswich.

Not surprisingly, even though he was not far away with a 25-yard curling drive, the 18-year-old did not make the same impact as Dean Bowditch, who banged in a hat-trick on his first home start.

But the five minutes at the end of a game, which Jermaine Wright put the cherry on top of with an injury-time finish, was an important step in Mitchell's education.

The versatile midfielder, who captains the reserves, signed a professional contract last month after bursting through from the Academy with a string of impressive performances.


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His only other first-team appearance was a couple of minutes at the end of Town's 2-2 draw at Derby County and his arrival on Saturday meant five home-grown players had made their mark in Town's second win in five days.

The importance of the Academy, sponsored by the EADT, has never been under-stated but the coming weeks could emphasise its importance in contributing, along with old heads, to a last push for promotion.

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Manager Joe Royle may still try to bring in another loan player this week, and has until Thursday's transfer deadline to do so. With eight games to go, it could be an important addition.

If not the young guns will be called upon but – and there is always a but – youth can bring inconsistency, so experience will still be called upon.

We have seen how Matt Richards' form dipped for a spell, although since the break in Tenerife, he has been rejuvenated and even though Watford strung five along their midfield they rarely found a way past him and the youngster got forward well in spurts.

If no experienced striker is secured this week then the spotlight will fall on Darren Bent and Bowditch, who may only have got their chances due to injury to Pablo Counago and a loss of form by Shefki Kuqi, but boy have they taken them.

Last Tuesday Bent knocked in a hat-trick to scuttle Walsall, against Watford all eyes were on Bowditch – who made Ipswich Town history by becoming their youngest-ever hat-trick hero at the tender rage of 17.

The achievement beats Colin Viljoen, who was 18 when he netted three against Portsmouth in 1967.

And it was also the first back-to-back hat-tricks for Town since David Johnson followed Alex Mathie's lead in January 1998. Mathie banged in three during the 5-0 win over Norwich, while Johnson hit a triple in the 5-2 win at home to Oxford United three days later.

There may have been a touch of fortune about Bowditch's first, but then again Town were due some.

Five minutes in and on-loan Chelsea keeper Lenny Pidgeley misjudged a Sean Dyche back-pass and it came up off his right toe as he went to kick it with the left foot. It bounced up invitingly for Bowditch, whose predatory instincts have been honed on the Playford Road training pitches and he tapped in from three yards.

The second owed a little to weak defending by Jerel Ifil, who partially intercepted a Bowditch pass to Bent after a well-won Tommy Miller tackle. Bent reacted quickly to loop the ball forward. Bowditch took it on his chest and in the same sweet moment hit the ball right-footed past the keeper.

A bang on the head meant he was not initially sure if it had gone in but the congratulations soon put that right.

Then came a period when Town's collective heads seemed to be elsewhere as they throttled down a little with their work rate slackening to allow Watford to creep back into it.

Ex-Luton keeper Kelvin Davis, desperate to do well against his old derby rivals, made a brave and crucial save to deny the busy Heidar Helguson.

The Norwegian was playing as a lone striker and almost got on the end of a good low ball from debut-making Southampton defender Chris Baird, whose low cross from the right wing evaded everyone and crept past the far post.

Davis' hopes of a clean sheet were shattered in time added on before the break when a lapse of concentration allowed Watford skipper Neal Ardley's cross to fall to Helguson, who could not control it but Scott Fitzgerald reacted quickest to drill it in from eight yards.

It was sloppy but not totally surprising and while six points, which could become nine on Saturday, will be welcome, the Blues know they need to be more focused and not drift off during spells in the 90 minutes.

In the end it didn't matter, except for the prestige of a clean sheet, and the goal difference, as they were able to step up the tempo in the second half against a mediocre Watford side.

Bowditch completed his historic hat-trick on the hour when Davis' long clearance was caught in the wind. It fell kindly for the striker between a stranded Pidgeley, who was at the edge of his 18-yard box, and a hesitant Ifil. An alert Bowditch nipped in between them before stroking the ball in from 15 yards.

Davis' whoop and jump of delight showed what it meant to him while Bowditch gave the match-ball a kiss and claimed it after the game.

Wright wrapped the game up in time added on when substitute Shefki Kuqi cut in from the right flank to lay the ball to him.

The unmarked midfielder directed his 25-yard drive inside the keeper's left-hand post to claim his fourth goal of the campaign. He thoroughly deserved it too after a superb performance in a midfield, which for the most part dominated and controlled the game.

While much will be made, and rightly so, of the young strikers and the old heads at the back, the middle four in the past six games have been excellent.

Although much maligned, the midfield have been effective in winning possession and distributing well. Westlake was quieter than usual but he still caused problems with his direct running and energy.

Skipper Jim Magilton did nothing fancy but he closed down, linked well and moved the ball around. Miller was especially influential early on with his challenges and pinpoint accuracy, long or short.

Wright impressed again with his contribution moving in from the right to get involved wherever needed, playing clever balls and linking play superbly.

Like Mitchell's introduction it may have gone largely unnoticed, but just as with the Academy's input, the importance should not be ignored.

derek.davis@eadt.co.uk

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