If you poke a hornets' nest . . .

IF you poke a hornets' nest with a big stick then there is a fair chance you are going to get stung.The best way to deal with such a problem is to be well-prepared, use some guile and be on your toes.

Derek Davis

IF you poke a hornets' nest with a big stick then there is a fair chance you are going to get stung.

The best way to deal with such a problem is to be well-prepared, use some guile and be on your toes.

The Blues' inability to deal with Watford's well-known threat, and to make best use of their own strengths, meant they were well and truly stung by the Hornets at Portman Road.

And not for the first time either. This was Watford's sixth win on the spin against an Ipswich side that insist on sticking to their principled style of football and, while that is laudable, it didn't work.

It didn't help that too many Town players were not at their best and just were not up to the challenge.

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Even when they did get the ball down and tried to play, they lacked the guile, cutting edge and physical presence to get past Dan Shittu and Co.

While frustrated Ipswich fans sang 'Boring, boring Watford, and pleaded with them to play the ball on the ground, Aidy Boothroyd's side stuck to what has won them promotion once already and has seen them go top of the Championship again.

It is not pretty but it works and Town fans are naïve if they think the opposition are going to play the way that suits the Ipswich way.

For half-an-hour, neither side managed to produce a shot on target or a corner and the game was hardly the sort of thing you would want to take to foreign climes.

But when Watford did get a corner they made the most of it, or the second attempt to be more precise.

Matt Sadler delivered the flag kick into the six-yard box, Stephen Bywater, on his home debut, failed to deal with it and Tommy Smith was able to peel away from the goal-line and head back past Alan Quinn and the static keeper.

'Boring, boring Watford' chanted the gloating visiting fans followed by 'We are top of the league'.

Ipswich didn't help themselves either with a starting side that looked disjointed.

Jim Magilton made amends during the break by putting Alan Lee on in place of Tommy Miller and moving Jon Walters to wide right and pushing David Norris into the middle.

It almost worked immediately with dependable David Wright breaking from his own half and playing an excellent through ball to Lee, whose dipping shot beat the advancing Richard Lee but came back from the crossbar.

The Watford attack proved more precise and Nathan Ellington finished from eight yards after Jordan Stewart played a ball across the box, which was missed by Darius Henderson, but dispatched by 'The Duke'.

Danny Haynes replaced Pablo Counago, who is going through a bad patch at the moment, while Macedonian international Velice Sumulikoski went into midfield in place of Owen Garvan.

Ipswich looked more balanced but still had problems breaking Watford down.

They won a free-kick just inside their own half and Wright played it in deep for skipper Jason De Vos to head back across goal where Jon Walters showed determination to reach with an outstretched leg to poke in for his 11th of the season.

Walters also went close with a deflected shot that inched past the far post but all other attempts were repelled with some ease by a strong Watford backline, led by Nigerian defender Shittu on his return from the African Cup of Nations.

Leigh Bromby's long throws caused some consternation but it was the length of time he took to get to them and then deliver that annoyed Town followers, and eventually Andy D'Urso, who booked him for time-wasting.

Watford's gamesmanship was like their direct approach - entirely expected and understandable.

They were here for three points and to end Ipswich's proud run of 19 games without loss at home stretching back to last March.

It may not serve them well in the Premiership, as they found last time, but it does the job in the Championship and Town must learn to overcome - or fail.

They face similar opposition tomorrow night at Crystal Palace and must find a way of matching the uncompromising style employed by Neil Warnock's side or face slipping out of the top six.

Ipswich were fortunate on Saturday that those below then failed to take advantage but, such is the nature of the division, that only nine points separate them from an automatic promotion spot, although conversely, six teams are within two points of them and Norwich, in 13th place, are just four points away.

Not for a long time has the promotion race been so wide open but, for Ipswich to succeed, they need to be able to overcome all sorts of styles and systems and not allow their own standards to slip.

There is a good chance that we will see Shumi (Sumulikoski) and Norris start in central midfield at Palace, with fellow new boy Alan Quinn wide left and it is imperative that old and new blend very quickly. That way they can provide the sting in the tail to not just stay in the promotion mix but aim for a top-two finish.