Fit enough but lacking the killer touch

IPSWICH Town are one of the fittest teams in the Championship, if not THE fittest.Town's bad habit of conceding late goals - six in injury-time and eight from the 84th minute in games this season - has raised a few eyebrows.

Carl Marston

by Carl Marston

IPSWICH Town are one of the fittest teams in the Championship, if not THE fittest.

Town's bad habit of conceding late goals - six in injury-time and eight from the 84th minute in games this season - has raised a few eyebrows.

Perhaps Town are struggling mentally, or perhaps they are lacking stamina?

No, Keane is adamant that his team are in peak fitness. Instead, the main reason for letting games slip, so late in the day, has been attributed to the lack of a killer touch at the other end of the pitch.

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Town will be hoping to close out hosts Preston North End today, especially if the game enters injury-time with the visitors either a goal up, or at level pegging.

Keane will certainly not be questioning his players' fitness levels at the final whistle.

"Yes they're fit, without a shadow of doubt," insisted Keane.

"I certainly have no worries on that aspect. Our lads put in a hell of a shift the other night (against West Brom). If I felt the players were slacking off with that aspect of it, then we would be in trouble.

But their workrate was tremendous.

"If I gave you the stats about our players' fitness levels, you'd be pretty amazed.

"We've got an absolutely brilliant fitness coach (Antonio Gomez), and probably if not the best then the second fittest team in the Championship. Maybe we have to be, because we're always chasing the ball!" quipped Keane.

Chris Brunt's 93rd minute equaliser snatched a point for West Brom in a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night. It meant that Town saw another two points slip through their fingertips - they have drawn 14 of their 26 league games this season.

Substitutes Carlos Edwards and Pablo Counago both had chances to score a second goal during the later stages against the Baggies, a fact not lost on Keane.

"We did have opportunities to kill the game off. Rather then conceding the late goal, I'm more concerned with the opportunities that we had,"

continued Keane.

"That's what's killed us more than anything else. I still keep saying that we don't score enough goals, so we're constantly under pressure, "It's about putting the ball in the back of the net, and we'll have to improve on that in the second half of the season," added Keane.

The Irishman might consider naming an unchanged side for this afternoon's trip to Deepdale, though he might decide to tinker with the left side. David Wright and Jack Colback patrolled the left flank on Tuesday night, although Pim Balkestein and Owen Garvan are also pushing for a start.

Pablo Counago and Jon Stead started up front against the Baggies, and that might be the pairing again today. Connor Wickham is unlikely to figure, while loanee Stern John looks set to return to Crystal Palace after this weekend.

Skipper Jon Walters remains sidelined by a tweaked hamstring, so Tamas Priskin appears the more likely option as an alternative to Stead or Counago.

Preston are four places and three points ahead of Town in the table, following their 1-0 win at basement dwellers Peterborough on Tuesday night. It was Darren Ferguson's first victory on the Deepdale hot-seat, ironically against his former club.

Ferguson will be forced into at least one change. Skipper Callum Davidson, who was sent off for deliberate handball in the 1-1 draw at Portman Road at the end of August, is sidelined with a head injury.

Today will be Ferguson's first home league match in charge, since he took over from Alan Irvine, although the Lilywhites did lose 2-0 at home to Chelsea in the FA Cup last weekend.

Squads

PRESTON NORTH END: Lonergan, Hart, Mawene, St Ledger, Chilvers, Jones, Chaplow, Wallace, Brown, Welbeck, Mellor, Mayor, Carter, Parkin, Collins, Henderson, Barton, Sedgwick.

IPSWICH TOWN: Lee-Barrett, Rosenior, McAuley, Delaney, Wright, Peters, Leadbitter, Norris, Colback, Counago, Stead, Priskin, Garvan, Balkestein, Bruce, Martin, John, Edwards, Quinn, McLoughlin.

Referee: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire)