Colchester and Ipswich to be good neighbours again

COLCHESTER United manager John Ward is keeping a close eye on the situation at neighbours Ipswich Town.

The 59-year-old popped over the Essex/Suffolk border to give Blues counterpart Paul Jewell a visit at Portman Road earlier this week, the pair having a productive meeting before watching the Suffolk side’s reserve team game against Watford together.

Colchester have already taken defender Tommy Smith on loan from Ipswich until the end of the season in what is hoped will be a mutually beneficial deal – the League One side temporarily getting an international player while the Championship club get to see their fringe player in first team action.

And he could be the first of many to make the short trip down the A12 over the coming months.

The financially-restricted Ward is on the lookout for free transfers and loanees for next season and has previously said he is keen to see the club built around young, local players.

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And Ipswich could be the perfect place to look, with Jewell admitted this week that he will have to release a number of his soon-to-be out-of-contract youngsters.

The likes of Troy Brown, Luke Hyam, Tom Eastman, Billy Clark, Reggie Lambe and Ronan Murray are all heading towards the end of their contracts and have uncertain futures.

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Ward said: “I’ve got a good relationship with Paul (Jewell) as well as his assistant Chris Hutchings who knows our level from his time at Walsall.

“Paul’s let Tommy come here, they’re just up the road, so yes, if we can continue to both help each other out then why not?”

It was once commonplace that Ipswich players coming towards the end of their careers would see out their career at a lower level with nearby Colchester – the likes of Ray Crawford, Kevin Beattie and Roger Osborne to name just three.

However, the bitter switch of manager George Burley from Colchester to Ipswich on Christmas Eve 1994 – the U’s eventually receiving compensation for the move – did sour the relationship somewhat.

Ipswich players including Jason Dozzell, Gavin Johnson and Micky Stockwell all ended up at Layer Road in the late 90s, with Titus Bramble also making a short loan switch between clubs, as things gradually returned to normal.

However, the two seasons in which both sides were in the Championship (06/07, 07/08) stoked up the rivalry once again, with Ipswich purchasing Kevin Lisbie from their Essex neighbours immediately after their relegation.

The longer Colchester have stayed back in League One the more the relationship has thawed though. Lisbie was loaned back to his former club last season, while Smith has just made the same move.

Ward now has to decide whether to put the latter straight back into his line-up tomorrow for the trip to Sheffield Wednesday or keep with the same side which has won twice while the loanee – who celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday – was away on international duty helping New Zealand to a 1-1 draw in China.

“I’m going to put that question to my staff,” said Ward.

“Tommy’s a good player, but it’s not easy to change the team after 1-0 and 5-1 wins.

“I’m sure Paul (Jewell) will understand if I don’t pick him.”

– Full preview of Sheffield Wednesday v Colchester United in tomorrow’s EADT.

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