Countdown to the title

WITH 10 games left, the Championship countdown for promotion begins in earnest on Saturday.Although Derby and Preston have been picking up good results, they are six and seven points behind Ipswich respectively, with sixth-placed Reading 12 points adrift, so the Blues will not be looking over their shoulder but will keep their eyes firmly fixed on the two teams in front - Wigan and Sunderland.

WITH 10 games left, the Championship countdown for promotion begins in earnest on Saturday.

Although Derby and Preston have been picking up good results, they are six and seven points behind Ipswich respectively, with sixth-placed Reading 12 points adrift, so the Blues will not be looking over their shoulder but will keep their eyes firmly fixed on the two teams in front - Wigan and Sunderland.

Although their form over the past month has not been too clever, Town picked up points in places they shouldn't, Sheffield and Preston for example. The slip in standards only caught up with them against Watford, where they played better than they had for ages and might have had a net-full of goals, and then QPR, where they were woefully below par.

Losing at Wigan was no disgrace, though a worry was the lack of creativity in midfield and sharpness up front.


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The good thing is that we have seen enough this season to know the league has no real form to go by.

Town are just as likely to find some form and get back on track as other teams are capable of slipping up - after all, at some stage or another Plymouth Argyle, Gillingham, Sunderland, Stoke City, Queens Park Rangers and Reading have also held top spot.

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On the whole the defence looks solid enough with Jason De Vos and Richard Naylor in the centre and Fabian Wilnis on the right.

Matt Richards gives Town more options in attack when he plays as he seems to link better with the midfield, and while there are some supporters with misgivings about David Unsworth not being the player he once was, he has got experience.

The problems of late seem to stem from getting the balance right in midfield, covering for the back line, and at the same time feeding the forwards.

It may not be pretty to watch but far better a simple ball forward and finished in a flash than periods of lovely passing that only get as far as the edge of the opposition box.

In Jim Magilton, Ipswich have a skipper capable of finding that penetrating ball a couple of times a game, in Darren Bent and Shefki Kuqi they have proven strikers who will benefit from snatching a goal apiece, even if it is a scruffy rebound off a shin.

To get them though the duo need to be in the box sniffing and let others get the ball into them.

With James Scowcroft an added factor Town can mix things up.

Scowcroft could play as an out-and-out forward with Bent and once Bent learns to read the former Fox's flick-ons havoc would ensue in defences.

If Town really want to match other teams' height, putting Scwocroft him up front with Kuqi could be a frightening prospect.

Dean Bowditch would have provided another option, but Ipswich have allowed the young striker to go on loan to Burnley for a month.

Scowcroft is also adept at playing wide right, which would mean Tommy Miller pushing inside to his favoured centre midfield position - but that would jeopardise Ian Westlake and the energy he gives, or the craft of Kevin Horlock, who defends well and delivers a sweet left-footed ball up-field.

The left side is well covered by Darren Currie, who can excite and frustrate in equal measure with his set-pieces and crossing.

Moving him over to the right wing and putting Westlake or Richards on the left is another interesting, but as yet untried, option.

Winning the next seven games with a couple of draws thrown in would probably be enough for Town to go up automatically.

Wigan and Sunderland will drop points.

The two teams play each other at the JJB Stadium on Tuesday, April 5, with the Black Cats facing Reading at home and Ipswich away in the following two games. Mick McCarthy's side face a run-in which ends with Leicester and Stoke at home and West Ham away, all possible play-off contenders.

Worryingly for Town, and the Latics, Marcus Stewart is finding his goal-scoring form again with five goals in as many games, so much could depend on the result at Portman Road on Sunday, April 17.

Town will not fear any of the teams they have left to face but after the kick up the backside given to them by Watford and QPR, they will not fall into the trap again of thinking points are in the bag.

Ipswich entertain Nottingham Forest on Saturday, with Gary Megson's side scrapping for survival.

The Blues will be fighting on two fronts, first a solid Forest side who will get 10 men behind the ball as much as possible and then a Portman Road crowd who seem to get nervous quickly and expect fast flowing football all the time, despite the opposition jamming the midfield.

They end the season with a visit from crafty Crewe and a trip to belligerent Brighton who have surprised many teams at the Withdean, including Sunderland.

Millwall visit Wigan, who have been boosted by the news that the police row has been sorted to the extent that they will be allowed to play the rest of their home matches in front of a crowd.

Second-placed Sunderland are at Crewe, who have not won a game since they sold Dean Ashton to Norwich City.

Let the battle commence.

derek.davis@eadt.co.uk

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