Blues show form of promotion contenders

IT may have taken a longer time coming than anticipated or hoped for, but Ipswich Town showed the sort of form that will start to convince people that they can be genuine promotion contenders.

Derek Davis

IT may have taken a longer time coming than anticipated or hoped for, but Ipswich Town showed the sort of form that will start to convince people that they can be genuine promotion contenders.

It still wasn't perfect but three points, two goals, and a clean sheet, is as good as you can hope for.

It may have been different if Richard Wright had not made a wonder save to deny the unmarked Martin Rowlands who met a Daniel Parejo cross with a powerful downward header, or if Lee Cook's cheeky free kick from a tight angle had crept under, instead of hitting the crossbar.

But that save is the reason why Jim Magilton splashed out a good £500,000 on the former England keeper.

Wright has had some dodgy moments, he will be the first to admit he has not always been at his best, but he has also produced some match-saving stops through the season and this was another that helped set the Blues on their way to their second win in a week where they have picked up seven points from nine.

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Tellingly it was exactly the same starting XI as they had for the 3-1 win at Plymouth with David Norris back in the fold after a one match ban as Magilton looks to have settled on his best side but knowing he can make a change here or there without any disruption.

But it was the man Norris replaced that came off the bench to actually win the game for the Blues.

Jon Stead had been disappointed with his own performance against Charlton in midweek and admitted he deserved to be dropped. He also vowed he would work hard to rediscover his form and within five minutes of going on for the misfiring Kevin Lisbie he did just that.

A Moritz Volz free kick was nodded down by Gareth McAuley, Pablo Counago hooked the ball into the six yard box and although Radek Cerny saved Stead's initial effort the beanpole striker was up against sharply to nod in the rebound.

Three minutes later and Stead grabbed a second, this time there was no scrappiness involved.

Owen Garvan hit yet another excellent corner and Stead timed his run immaculately to power a header past the Czech keeper, who for the most part had won everything in the air.

So fired up and confident was Stead that when Town won a free kick, a good 35-yards out, the £750,000 signing from Sheffield United overruled the man with thunder in his boots, Veliche Shumulikoski, and took it,

Cerny could only watch as it evaded the wall and crashed back off a post, and even then Pablo Counago might have finished from the rebound.

It was not to be but it was a good 20 minutes work from Stead who showed his fellow strikers how to finish.

Although Lisbie got through a lot of work, found good positions and space, he was guilty of lax finishing, none more so when Counago slipped a ball through to him but the keeper was able to save in a one on one situation.

Counago showed his usual clever touches but he too, as he did on Tuesday, failed to find a way through after he had gone on in place of Alan Quinn.

The pleasing thing though is the amount of chances Town are creating and this win was built on hard graft and patience.

QPR looked a decent side; the goal when it came was the first they have conceded in 491 minutes, going back five games.

The thing is though they have not scored in more than eight hours of football and after Wright denied Rowlands, and a Parejo free kick that he turned round a post, they never really threatened until near the end when substitutes Emmanuel Ledesma and Dextor Blackstock threatened.

Two of the richest teams in the Championship slugged it out in an even first half with Town's defence looking stretched at times but skipper Gareth McAuley held it together and David Wright once more impressed.

It was Ipswich who came out in the second half, stepped up a gear and were getting on top even before Stead's double whammy.

After six draws in their previous 10 league games it was good to finally be able to go one better and find a victory at home.

With just one loss in 11 league game snow, Town have pushed right up the table, just nine points behind second-placed Birmingham City and the play-off places just a tantalising four points away.

Of course they now need to show consistency, starting by getting a win at Blackpool, which would be the first back to back victories since last February.

But with a settled side that is beginning to gel and confidence growing, leading to fewer jitters among the fans, then Town should be able to glean points at places like Blackpool and bottom-club Doncaster before taking on two of the relegated sides from the Premier league last season in Birmingham City and Derby, rounding off the month at home to bitter rivals Sheffield United before going to the old enemy Norwich City.

It promises to be an exciting month or so but one Town now look equipped to handle.