Burley back, but beaten

GEORGE Burley's homecoming may have been ruined by Darren Bent but he was gracious in defeat and once again tipped the Blues for a Premiership return.

GEORGE Burley's homecoming may have been ruined by Darren Bent but he was gracious in defeat and once again tipped the Blues for a Premiership return, writes Derek Davis.

Burley said: "I said before the season that Ipswich would be favourites to go up and I have not changed my mind. At the moment I would say West Brom and Ipswich will finish first and second. Ipswich are a cracking side. Maybe against us they were not at the top of their game but overall, looking at the players they have, they are good enough to go up."

But Burley admits his side have no such pretensions and instead will be battling to keep their heads above water. He said: "It is going to be a fight to survive. We need to add to what we have but I'm confident after rebuilding this year, we will push on from there."

It was the first time Burley had led a team out at Portman Road since his sacking in September 2002 following 15 years as a player and a further seven-and-a-half as a manager.

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His reception was befitting a man the Town supporters chose to remember warmly for leading Ipswich into the Premiership via a Wembley play-off victory in May 2000.

The Scot won Premiership manager of the year in his first season as the Blues finished an incredible fifth and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

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But fortunes change quickly in football and Town lost millions as they were relegated. A poor start to the 2002 season saw Burley sacked and the club later went into administration. Ironically, as a creditor, Burley will get more of the compensation owed to him by Ipswich if they reach the Premiership.

But three points for his new club Derby were of even more importance as they look to keep their heads above water in Division One.

The crowd rose as one as Burley made his way along the touchline to sit in the away dug-out for the first time since first signing for Ipswich 32 years ago. As a player he had made more than 500 appearances for the Blues and returned to take charge of the club at Christmas 1994.

He said: "I was looking forward to coming back but as manager of Derby County all I was concentrating on was getting the right result. It was a great reception from the crowd and I appreciated it. It was fantastic to come back after so many years after signing originally as a 15-year-old.

"It was good to see so many familiar old faces but it would have been better to get the right result.

"I look back at my playing and management career here and I can see how the stadium has changed under my management and remember taking the team back into Europe and playing alongside so many great players."

The cheers from the Portman Road crowd quickly switched to one of the young stars to whom Burley had given a debut, as Darren Bent put the Blues ahead after just 26 seconds.

"Christmas came early for Ipswich. To lose a goal after just 26 seconds was diabolical really. In fact, overall it was two diabolical goals. We were shaken by the opening goal, then for the first 20 minutes Ipswich were on top but then we found our feet and had a couple of chances.

"When it was still 1-0 in the second half I thought we were the only team who were going to score and we started brightly. Perhaps it was a unfortunate that Youl Mawene put into his own net but it was diabolical to allow Darren Bent free on goal. That sort of thing loses you games and that was the case.

"Darren is the last person you want to see get the ball in that situation and you are certainly not going to catch him. Lee Grant has made a good save but Youl could not do much more. I can't believe we made so many errors within 25 seconds."

"To come to Ipswich you need to be mentally strong right from the off and we were not. It was poor play, basic errors. It is difficult to legislate for that.

"When a club gets relegated, you have to rebuild and I did that with Ipswich. It took five years to get promoted and in the sixth we got back into Europe. So now I'm looking to do the same at Derby. It is not going to be easy. We are rebuilding the squad after letting 14 players go last season. We are bringing in free transfers, we have already used six loan players and we are giving 16-year-olds debuts.

"It will take time but I'm optimistic. At Ipswich we had to sell players each year we were in Division One. At Derby we don't need to do that but we don't have the finances to buy players either. It has always been my forte to bring young players through and hopefully we can emulate what we did at Ipswich."

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