First team places up for grabs

PRIDE, belief and a possible place in the first team next season are the motivation for Ipswich Town's young reserves when they entertain Watford at Portman Road tonight.

PRIDE, belief and a possible place in the first team next season are the motivation for Ipswich Town's young reserves when they entertain Watford at Portman Road tonight, writes Derek Davis.

With Joe Royle in the crowd, youngsters such as Chris Hogg and Matt Bloomfield will be looking to join the likes of Ian Westlake, Dean Bowditch, James Pullen and Nabil Abidallah in Royle's future first-team squad.

As the club is in administration and the belief is that at least one or two senior players will be moved on at the end of the season if Town are not promoted, the current crop of reserve and Academy players know they will be very much in the reckoning.

Although Town can not repeat their championship-winning season of last year, reserve-team manager Steve McCall is not worried about needing to motivate his players for their final four games.

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He said: "There are still some first-team places up for grabs. If we are not in the play-offs, or in with a chance of the play-offs come the last game of the season then the manager may look to blood one or two of these young players.

"He may not, but if he wanted to, he would only do so if the players had put in the performances for the reserve team. He watched most of the reserve games and he knows for himself who is doing what. This is a chance for some of these lads to impress and take their chance."

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One youngster who has already caught the eye is schoolboy Aiden Collins after a string of impressive reserve-team games.

McCall said: "He comes to us full-time next season and is definitely one for the future. Aiden has given some of the others a bit of a kick and shown them they need to keep their standards up."

Watford's 1-0 defeat by Spurs last Thursday was their first loss in 16 games but with the first team involved in an FA Cup semi-final with Southampton, they will have plenty to play for.

McCall warned: "One or two of them may be in with a chance of being on the bench for the FA Cup and will be looking to impress and push their claim, so all in all it makes for an interesting game.

"All footballers like to finish the season well and on a high. It gives them belief and confidence for next season and personal pride is also at stake."

Young Arsenal defender Alfie Kamara has a second run-out on trial with Ipswich, while striker Alun Armstrong will look to complete 90 minutes after recovering from a fractured wrist. He went on as a late substitute for Fabian Wilnis in the loss to Nottingham Forest but with Darren Bent still struggling with a hamstring injury he, and Dean Bowditch, could be needed for the trip to Coventry City.

With Alan Ferguson's Portman Road pitch in much better shape, the reserves are back at the main ground after playing up at the training ground. Kick-off is 7pm.

Meanwhile, former players Kieron Dyer and Titus Bramble, along with Blues vice-president Harold Smith, have dipped into their own pockets to ensure the Academy under-14s side are able to compete in the Nike Cup next month.

The trio have stumped up £2,000 between them so the youngsters can play in the tournament in Sunderland which was won by Town when Darren Ambrose and Darren Bent were in the side.

Last season, while at Ipswich Town, Gary Croft sponsored the Grimsby Town youth side from which he had progressed.

Ipswich Town: Pullen, Kamara, Chaffey, Bloomfield, Collins, Hogg, Abidallah, Westlake, Armstrong, Bowditch, Boardley, Mitchell, Peat, Flack, Nash, Atay and Reid.

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