Big ask for Town to finish in top two

MASSIVE game.Biggest game of the season.A vitally important match.There was no doubting how this top of the table battle was being perceived even before a ball was kicked in anger.

Derek Davis

MASSIVE game.

Biggest game of the season.

A vitally important match.

There was no doubting how this top of the table battle was being perceived even before a ball was kicked in anger.

Win and Ipswich would be seen as genuine automatic promotion contenders, lose and it will be play-offs at best.

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Time will tell if a top two spot is beyond the Blues now but a ten point gap with 12 games to go will be a big ask to close, not least because even in this division of surprises, it is unlikely either of the two City's will drop that many points, and if they do it will probably be Watford or West Brom who will take their place.

Ipswich will obviously still aim for that and even after 11 defeats this season, ten of the away, Ipswich are more than capable of securing a top six spot.

They would be helped by the arrival of David Nugent, or David Healy, and a proven defender, because both departments were found wanting at the Britannia Stadium, while Tony Pulis' Stoke showed few weaknesses.

In the end the better team on the day won because they found a way to score. There was not a great deal in it but that can be said for the top half of the table in general and it is the little things that matter.

The game is won by grinding out the hard yards and finding the finish, promotion by doing enough to pick up points.

At Stoke there was not a great deal between top side and seventh placed Ipswich but the difference between winning and losing came down to a slip from Town and a moment of genius from City.

Ricardo Fuller climbed an inch above Jason de Vos to flick the ball on.

Dan Harding's hooked clearance fell kindly to Liam Lawrence who took a touch and then a stunning half volley that caught the wind slightly but enough to bend it into the top corner of the net where Stephen Bywater could not get near.

It was hard on Ipswich but when you are at the business end of the table with a dozen games to go things are going to be tough.

Of late Town have found a way to win. Their quality football coupled with a dogged determination at the back has seen them win three from four but all the flair and style did not help them against a powerful Potters.

They played some decent enough football through the middle with Velice Sumulikoski and Tommy Miller looking more like his old self.

But Town lacked any real width. Alan Quinn, struggling with an ankle injury that needs a scan, went off at half-time and Danny Haynes tried to liven things up by going up front alongside Lee while Walters dropped to wide right.

Norris had been ineffective there and was little better on the left as it is clear he wants to come inside and play through the middle and has yet to show Town fans what all the fuss was about.

There were 1,259 of them at the windy city but had little to cheer them.

Walters showed plenty of endeavour and was the provider for Town's best two first half chances.

His persistence paid off when he got the ball before it went out and found Alan Lee. The Town striker did well to control the ball but his left foot shot just six yards out was wayward and the chance was wasted.

Walters later found David Norris unmarked in the box but the £2m signing from Plymouth wanted too much time and the ball was nicked off his toe by Richard Cresswell.

Shumi forced a good save out of Steve Simonsen in the second half with his well struck shot from the edge of the area turned a round a post.

But that was all of real consequence as Ipswich flattered to deceive by playing pretty football up until the final third when it mattered.

Stoke were a bit more direct, and tested Town with set plays from Liam Lawrence and long throws from Rory Delap.

Defender Ryan Shawcross had the ball in the net after staying up following a corner and netting when an Andy Griffin shot was deflected too him but the offside flag was up.

Stephen Bywater had little of real note to do, although made a fine reaction save at his near post to push away a Lawrence shot away for a corner.

Mamady Sidibe almost scored with a spectacular overhead bicycle kick, badly volleyed wide with another effort but on the whole the Town defence coped with his and Fuller's powerful presence.

Joe Royle was in the stand watching the game and how he must rue not being able to buy Fuller when he wanted him. How different things might have turned out if Town had the inclination or ability to find funds for him back then

The game had its niggly moments too with Walters and Sidibe clashing a couple of times, while Lawrence got a yellow for a cheap shot on Harding when the ball was out of play.

But what really narked manager Jim Magilton was the multi-ball system that led to him being sent to the stand.

Magilton had gone down the touchline to retrieve a ball for Alex Bruce with the ball boys slow to react but then another ball appeared on the pitch.

When Magilton went back to the technical area he was ticked off by referee Mick Jones. As the official moved away Magilton wanted a final word and the official turned around and sent him away.

A couple of Stoke fans showed their displeasure by throwing a can and a bottle towards Magilton as he made his way down the touchline before watching the rest of the game from the directors' box.

That should not take away from the football or what promises to be an exciting, if nerve-wracking, final quarter of the season, when every game will probably be billed as massive and of vital importance.