Hatters get better of a bad day

THERE can be no disguising that this was a dismal encounter between two teams with nothing of real consequence to play for.For all the talk of still being in with a mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs this performance did not match that ambition.

By Derek Davis

THERE can be no disguising that this was a dismal encounter between two teams with nothing of real consequence to play for.

For all the talk of still being in with a mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs this performance did not match that ambition. And the result means the Blues have to win every remaining game and hope Preston don't pick up two points from five games, never mind what the other chasers do.

While the decision by referee Lee Mason not to actually give a penalty after Jimmy Juan was knocked over in the area as he was about to shoot, when it appeared he was already pointing to the spot, did not help Ipswich, there is little point in blaming the officials yet again.

He may have been the same man who sent off Sito Castro against Norwich earlier in the season, then changed his mind on that one as well, but that doesn't make him a bad official - just prone to mistakes that hurt Ipswich.

Chances are Ipswich would have been a goal up going in at half time, but the way they were playing there is an equally good chance that Luton would have scored anyway.

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Nor can the poor pitch be used an excuse, although it did resemble a poorly-kept allotment and you can understand why the Hatters' fans are so keen to move. It was as bad for both sides and Luton adapted better by bypassing midfield, and the deck for the most part.

No, quite simply too many players had an off day, and one or two just weren't up to the task, although their effort should not be questioned.

Shane Supple apart, and he was only given the chance to shine as much as he did because others failed in their jobs, none of the Blues players did themselves justice.

Fabian Wilnis was almost heroic in his defending and was a possible exception but for the others nothing really came off for them.

Sito Castro has shown he can produce some great tackles, good passes and offers support in attack, but his propensity for errors has become alarming and there is a fair chance we won't be seeing much of the Spaniard in the starting line-up for the rest of the season.

It was from Sito's side that substitute Ahmet Brkovic was able to cross for an unmarked Steve Howard to head past the hapless Supple with nine minutes remaining.

It was Howard's 15th goal of the season and highlighted what Town have been missing for most of the season, a fit striker capable of finishing.

With Alan Lee not 100% after struggling all week with a groin problem, compounded by his shortage of match fitness brought about by a hamstring tear, the Blues opted to support him by playing Richard Naylor up front alongside him.

With Wilnis and Jason De Vos comfortable as a centre-back partnership, it was not vital that Naylor should return from his two-match ban in defence.

But it never really worked. Although the cub's longest-serving player added a lot of strength to the attack he never really threatened goal - not that he was given much service, and it is doubtful whether alternatives Dean Bowditch or Danny Haynes would have fared much better.

The chances are though that it is unlikely that Naylor will be used as a makeshift forward again this season because if the Blues are to plan for the future they may feel the need to give the youngsters their head and to hell with the consequences if it goes badly wrong.

Alternatively it could be a spectacular success and one or the other would test keepers more than Marlon Beresford was.

His only real concern came when Darren Currie let rip from almost 30 yards and the veteran keeper, who is twice Supple's age, tipped over the bar.

Beresford's only other moment of concern was when Lee burst clear but his shot was timid and easily taken.

Supple, on the other hand, had to save at the feet of Kevin Foley, deny former Colchester United striker Dean Morgan with a fine upright block and pulled off an acrobatic two-handed pluck when Howard tried to curl one in from 20 yards.

Although Luton had the better and more clear-cut chances, Ipswich probably had more of the ball but could not utilise it.

Their midfield, which looked theoretically as good as it can get for Town, was strangely ineffective.

Currie had a few moments of cheeky cleverness early on but disappeared after his drive was saved.

Matt Richards took a couple of hefty whacks early on and looked like he was going to call it a day when he went down unchallenged, but with Bowditch stripped off ready Richards resumed. He may well wish he had not bothered because he was nowhere near his best and could not get into the game the same way he usually does.

Owen Garvan was also anonymous with the Luton midfield sitting tight on him.

The Town playmaker is going to have to get used to this sort of tight screening as his reputation grows and learn to find ways of getting clear, or using the tight marking to the team's advantage.

Although Juan almost won a penalty, he was below par and it looked like the lack of recent games had blunted his sharpness too.

Bad days like this one happen occasionally, and it has to be said Luton were not a whole lot more inspiring, and it is difficult to get overly excited by the remaining fixtures, but the Ipswich manager Joe Royle now has the chance to experiment a little more adventurously. Those players in comfort zones may find willing back-ups getting a longer run-out and this in turn may inject a little more enthusiasm, vim and inventiveness to the side.

The upcoming home games against Stoke City and Brighton may not mean much in terms of points now, although Albion are scrapping for their Championship lives, but a good, entertaining display could go a long way in convincing a few waverers to buy their season tickets and invest in next season's title chase.

And, of course, Town will want to finish higher than Norwich.

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