Darren spell shoots Town to the top

IF you are looking for omens, then going top of the league for the first time since September 11, 1999, is not a bad one to start with.

Ipswich Town 2

Millwall 0

IF you are looking for omens, then going top of the league for the first time since September 11, 1999, is not a bad one to start with, writes Derek Davis.

The Blues went on to win promotion via the play-offs that year under George Burley, after staying top for five games.

Getting off to their best start in 16 years is another to raise hopes and victory against Stoke tomorrow will break even more records.

If you prefer something a little more tangible to pin your Premiership aspirations on, then whether you were one of the disappointingly low 21,246 crowd at Portman Road, or watched on the television, you will have seen plenty to be encouraged about.

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There is the home run which has now stretched to six wins in a row, nine if you count pre-season friendlies or 10 if you throw in the play-off victory over West Ham.

Or you could start with Darren Bent, a free-scorer who is more than just a talismanic figure up front.

The 20-year-old opened the scoring with the deftest of clever goals and topped his all-round outstanding showing by providing the ball for Pablo Counago to wrap up the three points.

Bent had a couple of other decent earlier opportunities but got a header wrong and saw a shot curl wide.

Seeing the Spaniard in show good form, albeit in a cameo 20-minute role was also heartening.

Then there is the defence. Town could barely muster half-a-dozen clean sheets last season they have already claimed three in six weeks.

Having Kelvin Davis in goal is a massive help. Again he didn't have a lot to do but when substitute Stefan Moore, on loan from Aston Villa, found plenty of space and time to hit a terrific volley, Davis made a brilliant save to push away.

He also proved to be a tough nut too as Barry Hayles found out when he charged into the keeper and had to be helped off clutching his ribs.

Those sort of lapses were very rare as the back four looked as solid as it has ever done.

Joe Royle admits finding Drissa Diallo was a more than capable right-back was more accident than design, but it matters not. Nor does discovering Fabian Wilnis fitted in so well at left back. Both gave little away at the back and proved dangerous going forward, attempting to put crosses in with varying degrees of success.

In the middle the centre-halves are forging a formidable partnership, little is lost in the air and the more they play together, the less the quicker men are getting the better of them with their movement.

They are also an attacking threat, not just at set-pieces but free kicks from deep are proving effective as the Town's opening goal showed.

Counago got a flick on to a long ball up-field from Davis, Bent showed super skills to knock the ball around Lions' skipper Matt Lawrence with his right foot and then with the same foot, beat the onrushing keeper with a deft lob-cum-volley.

Millwall quite rightly claimed a penalty when Jody Morris went down under a Jim Magilton tackle. There was contact but the ball had already been played so perhaps both officials missed it.

Stoke referee Tony Bates also missed Lawrence using his hand in the first half to block a low Shefki Kuqi shot.

The Finn did not have the best of days, claiming a foul when he tried to reach an Ian Westlake shot which was going wide but was put off by a desperate Darren Ward tackle.

He also hit a second half shot so far wide it almost went for a corner, but that's what you get with Kuqi, a villain one day a hero the next as we saw at Rotherham for example.

Town battered Millwall in the first half but even if they had one eye on Thursday's UEFA Cup tie at home to Hungarian side Ferencvaros, they were resolute in defence and midfield if a bit lightweight up front until they introduced Moore and former Jewson League striker Neil Harris late in the game.

Player-manager Dennis Wise was again trying to run the game, and officiate at the same time, but Westlake was having none of his nonsense and De Vos was giving the ref some pointers about who should be in charge.

Town's midfield just about got the better of Wise, Morris, Livermore and Serioux, who only had one long throw to shout about.

Tommy Miller was a little quiet at first but had some joy hovering just outside the box with shots that lacked his usual power and direction, although one volley dipped dangerously close to land on the roof of the net.

Kevin Horlock was tucked neatly at the back but rarely got his left-foot going in the way we have seen so effectively.

Skipper Magilton was his usual commanding self, controlling much of the tempo and shape of the game.

Millwall fared a little better in the second half but Town weathered that to finish strongly.

Counago replaced Kuqi and after setting up Bent had the favour returned, although he still had much to do in a packed area.

The former Celta Vigo striker turned sharply and squeezed a left-foot shot around the otherwise impressive young Canadian Josh Simpson.

It was a wonderful moment for Counago, who has not scored since last January in a competitive game.

It was joyful for the Blues, too, as they went top with every chance of staying there after a trip to Stoke on Tuesday.

There were moments of humour as well. Keeper Graham Stack, on loan from Arsenal dwelt too long on clearing the ball and was run down by Bent whose block rebounded wide.

That prompted the crowd to chant, "Are you Marshall in disguise?" Quite what Andy Marshall – sitting on the bench – thought is not known.

Then Millwall's Mark McCammon bowled over the referee's assistant in front of the Cobbold Stand – not really funny but certainly slapstick.

There is nothing comical about Town being top. Having an unchanged side for three games certainly helps but the desire, determination and belief the players are showing will wipe the smile off many an opposition if they can carry on in the same vein.


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