Prodigal son returns

RICHARD Wright has returned home to Portman Road after a seven year absence.

Derek Davis

RICHARD Wright has returned home to Portman Road after a seven year absence, so EADT chief football writer DEREK DAVIS looks at the circuitous journey well travelled by the Blues' keeper.

THE prodigal son has returned home to Ipswich Town after enduring a long and difficult seven years away from his beloved club.

When Wright left Portman Road in the summer of 2001, a bright future was predicted.

He was an England international after winning promotion with the Blues and helping them to a UEFA Cup spot after finishing fifth in the Premiership.

His £6m move to Highbury was not entirely unexpected, but a section of Town fans felt betrayed or just plain upset. After all he was one of them. Born in the borough he joined Town as a young teenager and came through the ranks with the likes of Kieron Dyer, James Scowcroft and Richard Naylor.

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After making his debut against Coventry City in May 1995, Wright took full advantage of Craig Forrest's injury and the following season played in almost half of Town's matches, including a ten out of ten at Blackburn in the FA Cup when Alan Shearer told he would never have another game like that.

A double save in a game from a Tony Dinning penalty against Stockport County was voted 'save of the century' by Town fans and he saved a penalty, of which he had conceded, against Barnsley in the play-off final.

The move to the Gunners was judged by experts at the time as a season too soon and it certainly never worked out the way he hoped.

Not only could he not dislodge David seaman but Stuart Taylor moved ahead of him in the pecking order and after just 22 appearances, Wright made the £3.5m switch to Everton.

Hopes of a revival failed and he could not add to his two England caps, against Malta and Bulgaria, and was blighted by injuries, including a serious knee problem followed by a shoulder injury after it was reported he had fallen out of a loft.

On his return Wright had to be content with being back up to Nigel Martyn and bad luck struck again when he had the chance to start after Martyn was out injured.

Wright ignored a 'do not warm up in the area' sign and promptly tripped over it, injuring his ankle in the warm-up.

Although Martyn retired Everton brought in Tim Howard from Manchester United and Wright was again consigned to the bench so in the five years he was at Goodison Park he managed just 71 appearances.

Last year, even before season was coming to a close the EADT revealed Jim Magilton was keen to sign his former team-mate.

But a deal fell through and instead Wright chose to go to Premier League side West Ham, even though he knew he would be on the bench behind Robert Green and accusations of greed once again followed the keeper.

But it was a desire to play that prompted him to go to Championship strugglers Southampton when his old goalkeeping coach Malcolm Webster put through the emergency call.

Wright is credited with playing a big part in the Saints survival, a clean sheet on his debut, also against Coventry, was followed by a string of other important blanks and it was hoped on the south coast he would return on a permanent basis, but they lacked the funds to make him an offer.

Magilton never gave up the pursuit and after a couple of near completions, the 30-year-old Wright completed his medical over the weekend and signed a two-year deal, with an option to a third year in a £500,000 that will increase depending on appearances and if Town get promoted.

There will always be the question of should players come back, it didn't work out for Shefki Kuqi and James Scowcroft, but it has for Pablo Counago and Tommy Miller.

It has been a long time, and not all Town fans are convinced it is the right thing, but the returning Wright is bound to get a good reception on Saturday in the friendly against West Brom and should he help them achieve the Premiership dream, once more rekindle his hero status.